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October 25, 2006 5:44 AM   Subscribe

September 30th, 2002, scientists intercepted a 10 minute radio burst from the galactic center, 26,000 Light Years away. 77 minutes passed, and it repeated. And again. The signal repeated 5 times that evening.

Some think those signals are weird mysterious. Others think they are interesting mysterious.
posted by Lord_Pall (63 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cue the theremin.
posted by foot at 5:46 AM on October 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


I thought from the title of the FPP that this was going to be about the Beets.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 5:51 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how to actually spell the theremin sci fi bit, so that was a best guess..
posted by Lord_Pall at 5:51 AM on October 25, 2006


I thought from the title of the FPP that this was going to be about the Beets.

My first thought was Winkies.
posted by The Tensor at 5:59 AM on October 25, 2006


Let's see, 5 blasts of 10 minutes duration, with 77 minutes between each blast. Easy. That was just God, counting off Take Five. God likes slooooow tempos.

Or maybe they just seem slow to humans.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:59 AM on October 25, 2006


Theremin eh? So presumably these radio waves were produced by good vibrations?
posted by markr at 6:07 AM on October 25, 2006


Interesting. I haven't ever heard about this. (Though, SETI/ET radioastronomy researchers are rightly slow to leap to conclusions and cry 'wolf' too often.)

From what I understand about (armchair) radioastronomy those signals are very unique indeed - from the rise/fall profiles, to the rather precise timing and the possibility it might be a coherent emission all points to a very unique and as yet unknown source. Keep listening, guys!

Undoubtably we'll learn in a few centuries that it was merely the misdirected telecom squawk of a disgruntled googly-eyed teen bickering with their estranged googly-eyed parents when we finally decode the message: "I hate you! I wish I'd never been born!"
posted by loquacious at 6:12 AM on October 25, 2006


Some think those signals are weird mysterious. Others think they are interesting mysterious.

Jeepers! I think they are Captain Mysterious.

Is there any reason someone would send five simple bursts rather than five hundred or five thousand or five million in the same time? If you want to make it clear that someone is sending a message, you don't send something that could be interpreted as a non-message and that doesn't really have enough information in it to be a useful message. (Unless, of course, these signals are evidence of intelligent, but not very intelligent, life on other planets.) Or if it's an interception of normal communications between two aliens, what would be communicated in five bursts like that, and why only those five and no more?
posted by pracowity at 6:18 AM on October 25, 2006


It's the self-destruct code. They've finished with this experiment called humanity and are giving us the pink slip.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:31 AM on October 25, 2006


Is there any reason someone would send five simple bursts rather than five hundred or five thousand or five million in the same time?

An SMS message?

More seriously: If such a signal was indeed intelligent communications, and if it was indeed such a powerful (bright) signal that it could be detected from the galactic core, and if it was indeed a coherent emission - the chances of us understanding how they imparted information/metadata to such a signal are slim to none. What's the carrier, what's the data? What's the frequency, Kenneth?
posted by loquacious at 6:34 AM on October 25, 2006


What's the carrier, what's the data? What's the frequency, Kenneth?

I'm sure they're using a Windows-based program, so all we need is a codec.

VERY cool FPP!
posted by disgustipated at 6:41 AM on October 25, 2006


Um, neither article says the radio emission came from the galactic center. The wikipedia article states "Should the source be located less than 70 parsecs from us it could be either a coherent or incoherent emitter." and the earthfiles article says simply "Estimated Location: As far as 24,000 light-years, or as close as 300 light-years"

I'm banking on it being Neil Armstrong's pocket transistor radio.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:44 AM on October 25, 2006


The messages had a Cylon signature and they've just spun up their FTL drives to come kick our 13th Colony ass. We're doomed. Doomed I tell you!
posted by birdherder at 6:45 AM on October 25, 2006


Didn't you know? Cylons are made of people! PEOPLE!
posted by loquacious at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2006


It does speak to the power of mysteries, especially really early in the morning.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:56 AM on October 25, 2006


The signal repeated 5 times that evening.
Mom!, I said I'd call you back when I'm done with this set of probings!, GOSH!
posted by ernie at 7:03 AM on October 25, 2006


These "messages" are the radio-frequency equivalent of Jesus's face on a tortilla. The believers will see it as a sign, and the rest of us will chuckle.
posted by rocket88 at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2006


Dudes! Why are you talking about this!? Don't you remember what happened to Zarkov?
posted by washburn at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2006


Dollars to donuts it's an upside-down television transmission of Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympics.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:12 AM on October 25, 2006 [3 favorites]


Is there any reason someone would send five simple bursts rather than five hundred or five thousand or five million in the same time?

From the first link: "They came 77 minutes apart, give or take 30 seconds. The problem is that the observation was only six hours long and we do not know how long those bursts were occurring after the detection or observation ended, or before the observation began. It could have been going on much longer."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:12 AM on October 25, 2006


I'm not sure how to actually spell the theremin sci fi bit, so that was a best guess..

For future reference, here's how it's done:

ø¤º°`°º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º°`°º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º°`°º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º°`°º¤ø¤º°`°º¤ø,¸¸,ø
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2006


The believers will see it as a sign, and the rest of us will chuckle.

Believers in what? Extraterrestrial life, I presume? The possibility of which is so impossible to conceive of that one should only chuckle? You earthlings think you know it all.

Oh, and, um... you gonna eat that tortilla?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:19 AM on October 25, 2006


Stephen_Hawking: i predicted that. it's now called hawking radiation

benfranklin: lolz!!11 RLLY? well *i* callz it a FRANKLIN PULSE!

TAEdison: That's it, you two. I'm tired of your shit.

*TAEdison has left the room*
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:20 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


*gulp*
posted by grex at 7:25 AM on October 25, 2006


rocket88: A little harsh don't you think? This thread is very restrained and I think it's clear everyone would expect much, much more proof than this.

The probability of alien life is practically a statistical certainty given the scale of the universe. That of course has nothing to do with whether this particular phenomenon has any meaning or not.

What if they found encoded in the bursts the first 5000 digits of pi. Would it still be Jesus on a tortilla then?

Saying it is "little green men" is premature. But saying it is obviously nothing is a little premature as well.

My opinion is that there is a 99.9999% chance this is just a random emission of some kind from some known or unknown celestial body. But, with something this potentially important, that .0001% is worth investigating since, well, that is their JOB.

Further, I expect that even if it WERE found to be a message sent from an intelligent society, we would never hear about it, at least not in our lifetime.

I don't want to cry "conspiracy theory" because it is much simpler than that. Our planet would fall into total chaos if we presented proof of extraterrestial life. For God's sake 80% of the voters in some states in the US won't allow homosexuals the right to share medical insurance coverage. 50%-75% of the planet still treats women as a lesser form of human than men. 90% of Americans believe in God lacking any evidence of any kind whatsoever. You think they could accept "little green men"?
posted by Ynoxas at 7:44 AM on October 25, 2006


This is definitely against the rules. Isn't randomness supposed to delete anything resembling man's conception of order from its repertoire?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:54 AM on October 25, 2006


"VOTE FOR MCCASKILL"
posted by sourwookie at 7:56 AM on October 25, 2006


the chances of us understanding how they imparted information/metadata to such a signal are slim to none.

Not if they wanted others to understand it. You make the message obviously unnatural, something elaborate enough that no one could imagine that it just happened. If it then took us a thousand years to figure out, fine, but we would know it was a message and not just the result of one odd star spinning around another.
posted by pracowity at 8:04 AM on October 25, 2006


"People of Earth, your attention please," a voice said, and it was wonderful. Wonderful perfect quadrophonic sound with distortion levels so low as to make a brave man weep.

"This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council," the voice continued. "As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less that two of your Earth minutes. Thank you."
posted by dejah420 at 8:05 AM on October 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


The stars are right.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:12 AM on October 25, 2006


Yeah, all these jokes won't be so funny when we're surrounded by office blocks floating exactly in the way that office blocks don't, staring up at all the beautifully glittering death rays.
posted by loquacious at 8:14 AM on October 25, 2006


It's just some alien kid text-messaging ZOMGLOLWTF? And its resend got stuck.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 8:16 AM on October 25, 2006


"A paper published in April 2005 suggests that the source could be a radio pulsar which precesses with a large amplitude....."

Just a wobbly driedel that happened to be pointing in our direction briefly.
posted by hank at 8:20 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Radio signals from the center of the galaxy? It’s likely Limbaugh the Hut, my friends, blaming the Big Bang on Clinton.
posted by BillyElmore at 8:30 AM on October 25, 2006


The thing about these observations is, they are really interesting, even if you rule out the possibility that the bursts are sent by sentient extraterrestrials. Something really interesting is happening, and that in and of itself merits further study.

If the bursts were generated by a sentient alien race, it is impossible at this time to ascribe any motive - they may just be a side effect of some really cool alien thing they're doing, or it could be that these signals are composed in the most rigorously proper alienese, or that they have attenuated over the vast distances traveled. This might not be a message intended for our "ears".
posted by Mister_A at 9:12 AM on October 25, 2006


This brings to mind Jack McDevitt's short story Cryptic, wherein a man closing down a SETI operation finds a computer disk containing records of encoded transmissions from an interstellar war.
posted by y2karl at 9:47 AM on October 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Neat! I'm going to look that up y2karl, thanks.
posted by Mister_A at 9:50 AM on October 25, 2006


Where can I find that story, y2karl?
posted by dr_dank at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2006


I didn't chuckle.
posted by Chuckles at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2006


Here, for one. The April 1983 edition of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, for another, and various anthologies--including Standard Candles: The Best Short FIciton of Jack McDevitt.
posted by y2karl at 10:01 AM on October 25, 2006


Also, look for Year's Best Science Fiction, 1st Annual Collection [1984] edited by Gardner Dozois.
posted by y2karl at 10:05 AM on October 25, 2006


"So what's the score? How are things different? You running the world now? You God?"

"Things aren't different. Things are things."

"But what do you do? You just there?" Case shrugged, put the vodka and the shuriken down on the cabinet and lit a Yeheyuan.

"I talk to my own kind."

"But you're the whole thing. Talk to yourself?"

"There's others. I found one already. Series of transmissions recorded over a period of eight years, in the nineteen-seventies. 'Til there was me, natch, there was nobody to know, nobody to answer."

"From where?"

"Centauri system."

"Oh," Case said. "Yeah? No shit?"

"No shit."

And then the screen was blank.

--William Gibson, Neuromancer
posted by tspae at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2006


Real mystery here is a cogent article from Linda Moulton Howe, she of cattle mutilations.
posted by A189Nut at 10:51 AM on October 25, 2006


Im in ur stellar nursery popping ur dwarfs
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2006


The messages had a Cylon signature and they've just spun up their FTL drives to come kick our 13th Colony ass. We're doomed. Doomed I tell you!


My thoughts exactly. We are so frak'd.

Either that or this is the new Merzbow album...
posted by Demogorgon at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2006


Interesting.

I, too, regard the existence of life somewhere else in the universe to be nearly certain. However, I have been convinced by the argument that we have not yet been colonized that we are currently the only advanced civilization in the galaxy.

Put simply--given the galaxy's 12-14 billion year existence, and the paltry time scales required for a civilization to progress from end-speciation to galactic colonization (probably a few million years), it seems unlikely two civilizations should be timed so that they are both the first colonizers, and are both just embarking, like we and the hypothetical other intelligent society in the galaxy would be. Because otherwise, there would be evidence of colonization all over the place. Including our planet.

Not my argument, unfortunately. Cadged it from a physicist. Anyone know who?
posted by adoarns at 11:16 AM on October 25, 2006


"....we have not yet been colonized..."

Right, just keep saying that to yourself, it's what "they" want you to thin.........argh.........no....wait....
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:35 AM on October 25, 2006


intergalactic police siren?
posted by joelf at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2006


adoarns: I agree with that thinking, except because of the time scales a very tiny margin in the grand scheme of things could be well outside our ability to observe.

I mean, 500 years in a 14 billion year mass is almost a blink of an eye. We may just not have seen anything obvious in that blink.

Also, the colonization ships may just be another 150 years off, which in intergalatic travel is right around the next corner.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:25 PM on October 25, 2006


Why haven't we sent Bruce Willis out there to investigate?!
posted by drstein at 12:51 PM on October 25, 2006


Interesting.

I, too, regard the existence of life somewhere else in the universe to be nearly certain. However, I have been convinced by the argument that we have not yet been colonized that we are currently the only advanced civilization in the galaxy.

Put simply--given the galaxy's 12-14 billion year existence, and the paltry time scales required for a civilization to progress from end-speciation to galactic colonization (probably a few million years), it seems unlikely two civilizations should be timed so that they are both the first colonizers, and are both just embarking, like we and the hypothetical other intelligent society in the galaxy would be. Because otherwise, there would be evidence of colonization all over the place. Including our planet.

Not my argument, unfortunately. Cadged it from a physicist. Anyone know who?


I don't think there's any reason to assume that glactic colonization would be exceptionally expansive and widespread once the technology became available. Perhaps intelligent life lives on a planet with more resources than we have, so that the pressures to colonize other planets come around much later than they would in our society. Even if the technology exists, they may have also developed sustainable living practices that make staying on-planet economically preferable to starting new colonies.

Even if colonization occurs, the colonizers might stay relatively close to home, especially if they've developed the technology to terraform nearby planets. It makes sense to have nearby colonies to establish trade routes with the home planet.

You also mention the fact that we have not been colonized yet. This seems a bit of a stretch for evidence against other intelligent societies. I mean, we have only been broadcasting radio waves with unmistakably man-made content for under 100 years. It is possible that any would-be colonizers have simply not heard our signals yet.

All wild speculation of course, but that's my 2 cents. Anyway, these radio bursts are definitely strange and fascinating.
posted by SBMike at 1:26 PM on October 25, 2006


Our planet would fall into total chaos if we presented proof of extraterrestial life.

I think you overestimate how big of an impact this would have on people. Total chaos is a bit much. It might cause some introspection and blathering in the media, but such a discovery wouldn't really affect anything: Okay, we have found out that there are aliens. Now what? How exactly does that impact us in our daily lives?

As for the religious types, they would just rationalize around the problem, like they do with every single other thing that challenges their beliefs. No problem there.

Not my argument, unfortunately. Cadged it from a physicist. Anyone know who?

I believe you are referring to Enrico Fermi, he of the Fermi paradox.
posted by moonbiter at 1:33 PM on October 25, 2006


I think you overestimate how big of an impact this would have on people. Total chaos is a bit much. It might cause some introspection and blathering in the media, but such a discovery wouldn't really affect anything: Okay, we have found out that there are aliens. Now what? How exactly does that impact us in our daily lives?

What if you were told that they were coming to attack us?

That's the next boogeyman after the "War on Terror" runs its course.

It's been in the works for a while. Should be fun to watch.
posted by First Post at 2:05 PM on October 25, 2006


I'm pretty sure it would totally freak people out, at least for a few years. It wouldn't affect our daily lives (you know, until the death rays) but it would hopefully really gel humanity. "Holy shit, the bug/spider/goo/fish/klingon/green guys are going to come and visit and what the hell are we going to say?"

When I think about such things, I expect that if aliens ever had to go by purely geographical/sociological information, and couldn't understand any of our languages, they would land at the Imperial Palace, in Tokyo. Tokyo is by far the most impressive megalopolis on the planet, and the palace sits exactly in the middle, protected and green and lush.

Although perhaps they would call first.
posted by blacklite at 2:08 PM on October 25, 2006


moonbiter: I'm not sure. I think that I know several people who, given undeniable evidence of another intelligent society of "beings", would go fucking hysterical.

It would be the fear. The fact that these otherworldly entities could show up uninvited, literally any minute. With us having no idea as to their intentions.

I'm not saying they WOULD come or even COULD come.

But once you open up the mere possibility of alien visitors, the dynamic of life on earth is changed, forever, irreversibly.

Parts of Europe have riots depending upon outcomes of fucking soccer games. Some people are willing to drag another person behind a pickup truck because, although human, their skin is a slightly different hue. America cannot even decide, as the richest country on earth, whether or not everyone deserves the same level of healthcare or if it should be metered out based on net worth.

Do you really trust your fellow man enough to have him rationally consider the arguments regarding peaceful communication with an alien species?

I can tell you America's response. Most people would start stockpiling guns, and they would DEMAND the government create super anti-spaceship weapons to defend us.

"Mr. President, we cannot allow a death-ray gap!"

So although I feel us finding absolute "proof" of alien intelligence to be very, very remote... I think if it ever WAS found, it would have to be hidden from the public until we had matured to a point to where we could accept it.

Plus, if the ships take 1200 years to get to us, what's the rush? Why spill the beans now. Let George Z. Z. Bush the 400th president worry about it.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:15 PM on October 25, 2006


Indeed, perhaps I am myself overestimating common sense in the general population.
posted by moonbiter at 3:43 PM on October 25, 2006


"I occasionally think," continued [Ronald] Reagan, "how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask" -- here comes the clincher -- "is not an alien force ALREADY among us?" The President now tries to retreat from the last bold statement by posing a second question: "What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:11 PM on October 25, 2006


Decoded: "The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys."
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:21 PM on October 25, 2006


Is there any reason someone would send five simple bursts rather than five hundred or five thousand or five million in the same time?

Well, a bunch of adventurous aliens could've have been in a situation of great distress, under attack, being sucked into a black hole, a wormhole, or a some sort of interdimensional vortex.

Perhaps their Vagoda Coil was about to blow and in that moment, they had only limited ways to make a transmission. After it blew, the communications system was able to broadcast again before ultimately giving out.

Reasons like that.
posted by juiceCake at 8:01 PM on October 25, 2006


EAT AT JOES
posted by JaredSeth at 9:26 AM on October 26, 2006


Is there any reason someone would send five simple bursts rather than five hundred or five thousand or five million in the same time?

Clearly, they've read ITU RR 5.149 and are just being polite to other band users. There's no reason to send 503 or 5003 or 5000011 bursts just to get noticed.
posted by ryanrs at 10:05 AM on October 26, 2006


It's a cookbook!
posted by Opposite George at 8:10 PM on October 26, 2006


Decoded: 'Say, who's going to be on the cover of the next Oprah magazine, anyway ?'
posted by y2karl at 4:09 PM on October 27, 2006


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