No one would have believed, in the last month of 2020
December 31, 2020 4:41 PM   Subscribe

An interesting signal from space. Astronomers working at the Parkes Observatory detected a narrow radio emission (982 MHz) coming from the direction of the Proxima Centauri system.

Reception occurred in April and May, caught by an undergraduate intern, and closely-guarded analysis of the signal has ensued. Breakthrough Listen has dubbed the phenomenon BLC1, for Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1.

SETI offers some cautionary thoughts.

More thoughts and caution from Jason Wright.

(One planet around Proxima, previously)
posted by doctornemo (166 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've heard from reliable sources that the message has been decoded and it is being interpreted roughly as "Sorry we are late for your scheduled demolition."
posted by loquacious at 4:44 PM on December 31, 2020 [67 favorites]


Between that Israeli general and Harry Reid and Barack Obama all talking about UFOs, and Trump's urgency about creating a dedicated Space Force, it seems increasingly plausible that the public is being gently prepared to accept the reality of alien contact.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2020 [13 favorites]


The chances that there is intelligent life that happens to be orbiting the nearest star to our sun and is now, in our lifetimes, sending out detectable signals for us to find are astronomical. Is life out there? Absolutely. Intelligent life? Of course. Right next door? Highly, highly unlikely.
posted by badbobbycase at 5:00 PM on December 31, 2020 [19 favorites]


Also let’s not conflate intelligent life out there with science fiction monsters here.
posted by badbobbycase at 5:05 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Real talk here. Despite everything, despite every rational thought, despite every calculation in every astronomical model, despite all the astronomical odds against it:

I want to believe.
posted by mhoye at 5:05 PM on December 31, 2020 [58 favorites]


“Blink slowly, twice, if you need help.” — aliens, probably.
posted by SillyShepherd at 5:07 PM on December 31, 2020 [7 favorites]


My money is on that stupid Space Man stunt Elon Musk shot into space. One of the webcams is still transmitting and getting randomly picked up.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:08 PM on December 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


>Between that Israeli general and Harry Reid and Barack Obama all talking about UFOs, and Trump's urgency about creating a dedicated Space Force, it seems increasingly plausible that the public is being gently prepared to accept the reality of alien contact.

>>The chances that there is intelligent life that happens to be orbiting the nearest star to our sun and is now, in our lifetimes, sending out detectable signals for us to find are astronomical. Is life out there? Absolutely. Intelligent life? Of course. Right next door? Highly, highly unlikely.


I kinda believe both of these at once.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:10 PM on December 31, 2020 [31 favorites]


despite all the astronomical odds against it:

I want to believe.


I want to believe in The Culture but if we're taking bets then my money's on The Dark Forest.
posted by Ryvar at 5:13 PM on December 31, 2020 [78 favorites]


It's Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz. Don't let him read his poetry.
posted by Zedcaster at 5:23 PM on December 31, 2020 [21 favorites]


Yeah, despite all the EC Comics and sci fi B movies I consumed in my youth telling me we’ll definitely be slaughtered or harvested or enslaved, I’d love nothing more than to be around for First Contact. At this point I’d actually be fine with the end of humanity—and we definitely won’t band together to fight the alien menace.
posted by ejs at 5:24 PM on December 31, 2020 [13 favorites]




oh no.
posted by rikschell at 5:48 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


What a way to end 2020...
posted by Windopaene at 5:48 PM on December 31, 2020


WOW!
posted by 6EQUJ5 at 5:49 PM on December 31, 2020 [40 favorites]


we definitely won’t band together to fight the alien menace

Aliens, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the ten million votes that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Also, please eat my children first.
posted by XMLicious at 5:50 PM on December 31, 2020 [17 favorites]


And on their end they've spent the last 65 years trying to decode I Love Lucy episodes.
posted by JackFlash at 5:50 PM on December 31, 2020 [7 favorites]


Unrelated, but fun: Ghostly Circles in the Sky Can’t Be Explained by Current Theories

Orbs in photos? They are ghosts, and in this case, giant space ghosts.
posted by otherchaz at 5:56 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Phil Plait wrote up a piece also:

There have been countless times interesting signals have been detected which only turned out to be coming from humans (one of the more famous stories was from a signal detected by the very same Parkes dish, which turned out to be people opening the door to the microwave in the observatory kitchen before the oven had stopped, flooding the dish with microwave signals).
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:04 PM on December 31, 2020 [29 favorites]


6EQUJ5 I see you and I love you.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:07 PM on December 31, 2020 [10 favorites]


It was a weather ballon.
posted by interogative mood at 6:17 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Any news story that mentions Parkes is a good time to urge people to see the lovely little movie "The Dish," a fictionalized account of the Parkes Observatory's role in televising the moon landing that is one of my absolute favorite space movies and I LOOOOOOOOVE space movies.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:30 PM on December 31, 2020 [35 favorites]


They are ghosts, and in this case, giant space ghosts.

Coast To Coast?
posted by hippybear at 6:30 PM on December 31, 2020 [32 favorites]


“Why does Ross, the largest friend, not simply eat the other friends?”
posted by Going To Maine at 6:36 PM on December 31, 2020 [69 favorites]


needle-sharp at 982.002 megahertz (“BLC1 is, for all intents and purposes, just a tone, just one note,” Siemion says. “It has absolutely no additional features that we can discern at this point.”)

The fact that the signal is at an "integer" frequency to a precision of 2 parts in a thousand when measured in megahertz makes me think it is almost certainly of human origin. There's nothing fundamental about megahertz as a unit of measure -- it's based on the second, which is just a convenient human unit of time measurement ultimately related to the current length of the day on Earth.

(1 Hz = 1 cycle per second; 1 MHz = 1 million cycles per second. Heck, a million is also just a convenient human unit based ultimately on the fact that we have 10 fingers and happened to pick that for the basis of our current numbering system. (We also have 12 joints on the fingers-not-thumb of one hand, so it could have been base 12, and I've heard that this is the origin of the Babylonians' base-12 numbering system which is ultimately why a circle is divided into 360 degrees and an hour into 60 minutes, but who said history has to make logical sense.))
posted by heatherlogan at 6:37 PM on December 31, 2020 [42 favorites]


> The fact that the signal is at an "integer" frequency to a precision of 2 parts in a thousand when measured in megahertz makes me think it is almost certainly of human origin.

What's the chance that a terrestrial signal would appear to come from precisely the direction of our nearest star, however? I confess I know nothing about the mechanics of how this signal was received and even less about what it means, but wouldn't the apparent source of the signal be a far bigger coincidence than the fact that it's near an integer of Hz? That is, isn't it far more likely that, if it was terrestrial but bouncing around off the atmosphere or whatever, it it would instead appear to be coming from empty space?

The theory of a natural burst from a planet with a strong magnetic field, a la Jupiter, seems more plausible to me. It could help explain why we see it come from a very close star, but haven't seen similar signals from much more distant stars.
posted by lewedswiver at 6:47 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


What's the chance that a terrestrial signal would appear to come from precisely the direction of our nearest star, however?

When we're talking about radio telescopes, it could be that the signal was detected when the telescope was pointed in that direction, and unless you have the time to do some tweaks in real time to the telescope/detector/equipment, that sometimes is all you know for sure. There are ways to isolate location better, but they tend to require being able to tweak settings/move the dish/detector/etc during the event. I don't know what happened in this instance, but a stray terrestrial signal isn't out of the question, based on how radio telescopes typically work.
posted by tclark at 6:53 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


I want to believe in The Culture but if we're taking bets then my money's on The Dark Forest.

Yep, the signal translates to, “Do not answer! Do not answer! Do not answer!”
posted by NoMich at 6:55 PM on December 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


So, RiP Arecibo yesterday
and today it might be rebuilt

huh.
posted by clavdivs at 6:56 PM on December 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


Well that's just GREAT...that's just what I needed. I swear, every time I wash my car.

I don't have nearly enough place settings for this.
posted by rhizome at 6:57 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Very unlikely to be a sign of intelligent life. So far, no examples of that exist in the universe.
posted by sudogeek at 6:58 PM on December 31, 2020 [23 favorites]


Plus there's no room in the Bible for anything like it to happen.
posted by rhizome at 7:00 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


The good news is that it IS space aliens and you don't actually have to worry about The Dark Forest or any other kind of attack or invasion fantasy. The bad news is that nobody is coming to save us from ourselves either. This is just space alien teenagers being the space aliens equivalent of dicks.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:08 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]



I want to believe in The Culture but if we're taking bets then my money's on The Dark Forest.

Yep, the signal translates to, “Do not answer! Do not answer! Do not answer!”
the planet [Proxima b] may well be hostile to life.


And we're all ALIVE, Proxima b is gonna be LIVID.
posted by otherchaz at 7:15 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


This is just space alien teenagers being the space aliens equivalent of dicks.

"Unfortunately I got stuck the Earth for rather longer than I intended," said Ford. "I came for a week and got stuck for fifteen years."
"But how did you get there in the first place then?"
"Easy, I got a lift with a teaser."
"A teaser?"
"Yeah."
"Er, what..."
"A teater? Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets which haven't made interstellar contact yet and buzz them."
"Buzz them?" Arthur began to feel that Ford was enjoying making life difficult for him.
"Yeah", said Ford, "they buzz them. They find some isolated spot with very few people around, then land right by some pour soul whom no one's ever going to believe and then strut up and down in front him him wearing silly antennae on their heads and making beep beep noises. Rather childish really."
posted by hippybear at 7:17 PM on December 31, 2020 [23 favorites]


Ha! Forgot that bit. Haven't read it in a fuuuuck-I'm-old long time. Well, you know what I always say, steal from the best. What? Somebody else said that bit, too? Fuuuuuck I'm old.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:23 PM on December 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


On the one hand, as a geek, it would be cool to have aliens.

On the other hand, I absolutely don't trust the human race to be able to deal with aliens and I am 100% sure at least 50% of the population would try to shoot/nuke them. We can't even deal with our own species having slightly different varieties of skin colors, for fuck's sake, how are we going to deal with tentacles and different languages and other weirdness? We won't, we'll just shoot 'em. (On a related note, just bought myself a copy of Axiom's End....)

But: if aliens gotta land, PLEASE WAIT TO DO IT UNTIL TRUMP IS OUT OF OFFICE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on December 31, 2020 [7 favorites]




...it seems increasingly plausible that the public is being gently prepared to accept the reality of alien contact.

Meanwhile, buried in the 5,593 pages of COVID relief and spending that Trump signed on Sunday was a directive that gives the DNI 180 days to submit a report on "unidentified aerial phenomena". Pretty interesting, dontcha think?
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:44 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


This is just space alien teenagers being the space aliens equivalent of dicks.

The Roadside Picnic scenario. At least maybe we'll discover major leaps of technology, and a device that grants any wish, from the teen alien jerks who decide to not correctly dispose of their litter.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 7:49 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Now that we’ve seen how Americans actually deal with a movie-like pandemic scenario, I can’t wait to see how they handle a movie-like first contact scenario.

Aliens Say They Come in Peace. In this Small Ohio Diner, Some Aren’t So Sure
posted by condour75 at 7:52 PM on December 31, 2020 [76 favorites]


"We've been trying to reach you about your car warranty".
posted by sundrop at 7:56 PM on December 31, 2020 [37 favorites]


Tell them no, we do not need our air ducts cleaned.
posted by Kabanos at 8:06 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


I've heard from reliable sources that the message has been decoded and it is being interpreted roughly as "Sorry we are late for your scheduled demolition."

Hate to use the same line twice in the same night but my Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses are in the (Canada) post. They keep changing the delivery date. I hope I get them in time!
posted by juiceCake at 8:07 PM on December 31, 2020


Very unlikely to be a sign of intelligent life. So far, no examples of that exist in the universe.

Wait, but aren't we...ohhhh, right, ok.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:09 PM on December 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


My real parents finally did come back for me! So long, suckers!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:12 PM on December 31, 2020 [10 favorites]


"If there is intelligent life there, it would almost certainly have spread much more widely across the galaxy."

There's such a broad assumption that aliens we managed to locate would be more advanced than we are. What if they're just some struggling nerds with a telescope and budget problems?
posted by Countess Elena at 8:18 PM on December 31, 2020 [13 favorites]


This is what happens when you attempt to use an experimental FTL drive to beat the plodding generation ships to the nearest star system. You end up six hundred years in the past on some godforsaken rock with no working equipment and have to cobble together a primitive rescue beacon that can only produce one tone.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:25 PM on December 31, 2020 [30 favorites]


From some random person on Hacker News: "That's also the wavelength (982 MHz) of the Intel Stratix 10 FPGA: https://www.intel.com/content/dam/www/programmable/us/en/pdfs/literature/sg/product-catalog.pdf as well as the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6 GB GDDR6 with ROG Boost (Base: 982 MHz) and Fermi DVFS (982 MHz at 0.981V): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352864816300736" It sounds like it could be the hum of the computer hardware...

Allow me to also remind lewedswiver that "of human origin" does not necessarily imply terrestrial. There's a whole whack of technology of human origin that is not currently on the Earth.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:31 PM on December 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


Trump's urgency about creating a dedicated Space Force, it seems increasingly plausible that the public is being gently prepared to accept the reality of alien contact

Eh. Odds are 50/50/0.000000000000001(*) that, 1) lobbyists for aerospace contractors put the squeeze on his administration to set up new and ridiculously lucrative military contracts; 2) Trump watched a lot of televisual entertainments with tough guys shooting laser beams -- possibly Space Mutiny; 3) there are space aliens. (*: rounding error)
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:33 PM on December 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


My money is on that stupid Space Man stunt Elon Musk shot into space. One of the webcams is still transmitting and getting randomly picked up.

Stupid Space Man is holding out on us, in that case. He really should share that magical battery tech.

If it's not terrestrial, the near exact integer MHz is either an amazing coincidence or a strong indication that the sending civilization is pretty goddamn advanced to have been able to define and predict Earth's orbit so well over such a long distance. The doppler effect would shift the received frequency by a differing amount at different times of year, after all, in addition to that caused by the relative motion between them and our Sun.
posted by wierdo at 8:44 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


The interesting thing about if aliens made contact with us would be to see what viruses wipe out which population first.
posted by perhapses at 8:50 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Trump's urgency about creating a dedicated Space Force, it seems increasingly plausible that the public is being gently prepared to accept the reality of alien contact

By having people who are well known kooks, like Trump, spout off about this? Or having an Israeli general describe galactic federations? It's not gentle. It'd be a more plausible as a strategy to get people not to believe some leaked revelation.
posted by mark k at 9:01 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


So, is the consensus we’re just looking at radiological artifacts left behind by some Aussie nuking prawns in the micro?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:04 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


NASA Next week: "It appears a comet with an extremely high albedo reflected a powerful misdirected directional signal for a time before continuing on it's orbit, thereby making timely identification of the actual source difficult. While we are still searching for the exact terrestrial location that originated the broadcast, we have engaged other federal entities for assistance in decrypting the content and, gratifyingly, been rewarded with the full message. Unfortunately, due to regulations, we are unable to provide the footage recovered. We can, however, state with certainty that it was once visible on the internet address 'goatse.cx'. If anyone has information leading to ..."
posted by IronLizard at 9:05 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


There is zip, zero, zilch, nada, no way the cheeto would have been able to keep this secret.
posted by Mitheral at 9:05 PM on December 31, 2020 [21 favorites]


2021: The Year We Discovered the Swastika on Europa and Compulsive Gamers Everywhere Finally Found Their Parents Were Wrong About Wasting Their Lives.

(With, slight, apologies to the author of Armada)
posted by IronLizard at 9:09 PM on December 31, 2020


It just occurred to me how much worse things would get. Since there's no provision for any other intelligent being to be made in the image of God, I figure every Christian is going to figure they weren't selected for rapture and are therefore living in a post-Armageddon dystopia, and thus it's time to, in the words of the prophet Billy Idol, "rain Hell from above."
posted by rhizome at 9:16 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


There is zip, zero, zilch, nada, no way the cheeto would have been able to keep this secret.

He might be orange, but I bet his secrets have secrets. He didn't get this rich from (very relatively) his means without some serious method.

Still, I understand the general thrust of your comment. He would have wanted such a thing out and wanted to be the one to release it.
posted by IronLizard at 9:18 PM on December 31, 2020


It's a rerun of Maude.
posted by clavdivs at 9:20 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


There is zip, zero, zilch, nada, no way the cheeto would have been able to keep this secret.

The most compelling argument that we have no evidence of alien life is that Trump hasn't told us about it.
posted by Pouteria at 9:25 PM on December 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


"The aliens will contact us when they can make money by doing so." - David Byrne
posted by neuron at 9:30 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Oh it's probably just a robocall, "Hello. Please don't hang up. We've been trying to reach you for some time. Your Google rankin-"*click*
posted by drinkyclown at 9:38 PM on December 31, 2020


Don't we need warp capability before first contact?
posted by brookeb at 9:46 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


PLEASE

LET'S NOT MAKE THIS UGLY

IT'S NOT YOU IT'S US

REALLY
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:52 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Ahhh, beautiful. What a way to ring in the new interstellar war. I mean year. New year, of course.
posted by IronLizard at 10:05 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


"Never gonna give you... dammit!"
posted by MrVisible at 10:19 PM on December 31, 2020 [7 favorites]


Not aliens. Closeness explained by the fact that both our star systems are remnants of an ancient Star Empire. We were part of a civilization spread across the galaxy but lost contact during a conflict known as The Fruit of Our Endless Days. A civil war. Dinosaurs were in charge then. We and the Neanderthals were their allies. The asteroid took out the communications array we used to keep in touch with other planets. There is reason to believe this was an enemy attack.

It's a long game. Reestablish contact with our compatriots around Proxima Centauri. Await orders from the inner systems or the next million years belong to the ferrets.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:27 PM on December 31, 2020 [11 favorites]


[Jab with index finger] "Make it so."
posted by mule98J at 10:39 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our (insert alien description here) overlords!
posted by Space Kitty at 11:11 PM on December 31, 2020


The signal has now been decoded. Apparently it's a kind of conversation--between two aliens!--and starts like this:

"They're made of meat."
posted by zardoz at 11:13 PM on December 31, 2020 [27 favorites]


I honestly don't think Trump would give even the tiniest shit about aliens because there's nothing in it for him and they would take attention away from him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:15 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't an integer in base 10 also be an integer in every other base?
posted by ctmf at 11:18 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


It is my understanding that Proxima Centauri has hellacious flares several magnitudes beyond what the Sun has produced thus far, Carrington Event included, so what good does it do for Proxima B to be in any Goldilocks zone there when all possiblity of life is being regularly scorched to oblivion ?
posted by y2karl at 11:26 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


The most compelling argument that we have no evidence of alien life is that Trump hasn't told us about it.

Assuming there are aliens the Pentagon knows about, I wonder if the people in the know simply conspired to deny everything with Trump, even if he asked directly.
That would be treason (or something), but maybe they think it's worth the risk. Because any smart person knows he's stupid and would blurt it out at his next rally.
posted by zardoz at 11:30 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Trump wouldn't talk about it if it terrified him.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:47 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


I honestly don't think Trump would give even the tiniest shit about aliens because there's nothing in it for him and they would take attention away from him.
posted by jenfullmoon


Being the one who tells the world about the single greatest discovery in human history has a certain attraction for those lusting after historical significance, however undeserved.
posted by Pouteria at 12:18 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


2020 is over. Holy Shit, what a year. Hugs to all.
posted by Windopaene at 12:21 AM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't an integer in base 10 also be an integer in every other base?

While researching this I disappeared down my first rabbit hole of 2021 and emerged with the knowledge that Donald Knuth's METAFONT has version numbers which tend to e.

This is what the internet is for. Happy New Year, folks.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:26 AM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't an integer in base 10 also be an integer in every other base?

Yes, but since it's MHz that it's an integer for they are almost hitting an even 982,000,000--it's that string of zeroes that would be very different if they used base 12.
posted by mark k at 12:27 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


''...Over the billions of years since Proxima b formed, flares like this one could have evaporated any atmosphere or ocean and sterilized the surface, suggesting that habitability may involve more than just being the right distance from the host star to have liquid water.''
Well, apart from the fact that Proxima Centauri B is a tidally locked world, not unlike our own Moon, presenting one face towards the star and orbiting it at a distance of 4.7 million miles with a year of less than 12 days, and the, oh, flares, making life as we know it a rather remote impossibility, this is indeed exciting news.
posted by y2karl at 12:55 AM on January 1, 2021


Otherwise, Happy New Year.
posted by y2karl at 1:00 AM on January 1, 2021


Thanks for this ... it's the -only decent- description of what's going on I've seen - and how a leaker messed up their chance to do it this way much sooner,

This *is* an interesting signal. BUT consider the energy needed. The Voyagers are about 1-trillionth as far away as that star - and our *best* scopes are needed to receive them. So suppose someone *really* has a transmitter to throw 10-trillion-watts into the sky. Why, then, is there *no* modulation? Not even on-off-on? very very VERY VERY not likely. Sorry.

That said? THANK YOU ME-FITES for YOUR POWERFUL, MOD-ulated TRANSMISSIONS as we move into another wondrous, crazy, not-the-same-old year. What will be, will be ... just YOU be here next year!!!
posted by Twang at 1:14 AM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't an integer in base 10 also be an integer in every other base?

It would not. In base 0, it would be simply be ludicrous.

(That was a baseless attack, my apologies.)
posted by IronLizard at 1:37 AM on January 1, 2021 [16 favorites]


Also let’s not conflate intelligent life out there with science fiction monsters here.

Yeah, we just call those science monsters.

And on their end they've spent the last 65 years trying to decode I Love Lucy episodes.

Which is about how long ago the demolition order was signed. Why do you think they're so upset about being late? Just wait till they see The Apprentice.
posted by loquacious at 1:41 AM on January 1, 2021


(That was a baseless attack, my apologies.)

Oh my god the punhub thread is leaking.
posted by loquacious at 1:42 AM on January 1, 2021 [21 favorites]


So suppose someone *really* has a transmitter to throw 10-trillion-watts into the sky.

Ok, we can do that. We're really nice humans and probably enjoy a good theoretical. First, though, let's consider that radio telescopes are great at determining whether there's a signal and (especially when distributed as distantly as possible) the direction they're detecting it from. So far, so good! They can not, however, determine actual distance except by triangulation of the signal amplitude as received by each antenna/site. Doesn't sound like a fatal flaw, right? Triangulation was in that 80's pirate radio movie, Apple(TM) uses it with bluetooth(tinyTM) for device tracking even for 'offline' devices AND (this is the big one for us paranoids, really) SkyJack(TM, USPTOno:FUITHOUGHOFITFIRST).
Ok we've been reasonable so far, but it's hangover day so you'll read this with a headache later and realize you already knew triangulating over interstellar distances using the weak ass separation possible on the planet is so far from accurate that we REALLY can't tell what radio signal bounced off of what. Really. These things were only ever promised to look at fairly stable things that could be easily pointed at, have their signals filtered by a rock solid baseline and deliver nothing but esoteric datum that would either validate, invalidate or fail to affect astrophysical theories.

A few smart kids with SDR's on quadcopters and the awesome timing provided by free worldwide VOIP networks could fool them very easily. Go figure. Weak transmitters close to a receiver look exactly like powerful transmitters from a distance. Co-ordinate weak transmitters (relatively weak) to points at the receiving arrays and your have the appearance of direction, appearance of amplitude and, after encryption cracking, a disturbingly stretch jpeg from aliens many light years away. Also, a voiceover that states 'You're no match for SCIENCE!'.

You're welcome, I'm glad I could prevent you from jumping the gun and going balls out MAD MAX in anticipation of aliens from BEMWorld arriving.

The real aliens are waiting for this charade to lull us into a sense of complacence.

Edit: Removed comment about precious resource used for sanitary purposes. Aliens may invade if they believe there is a source of klingon remover in existence on this planet.
posted by IronLizard at 2:05 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


and closely-guarded analysis of the signal has ensued.

This is... not exactly the scientific method.
posted by Dysk at 2:52 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


If you read the Jason Wright link you'll see:

The signal is not perfectly narrow band. There are two faint “sidelobes” visible on either side (there are bigger ones, too, outside the plot). This is due to signal modulation, illustrating that the signal contains information—it is not a pure “dialtone” or “doorbell”.

Which is the answer to the why is there no modulation question upthread. There is modulation. Also if you're an alien that chooses to beam a signal at earth from a few light years away you don't have to throw trillions of watts into the signal. You can just beam the signal at earth. It helps if your tech is a few decades more advanced than ours.

and

The signal’s frequency is shifting towards lower frequencies as time increases (upwards). This is how we know the signal is not from Earth: the telescope is on the Earth, which is rotating. As this happens the telescope is first moving towards the source (as the source rises), then moving away (as the source sets). This creates an ever increasing redshift, making the signal “drift” to lower and lower frequencies during the observation. A source on the surface of the Earth would not be moving with respect to the telescope, and so would show no Doppler shift.

Which is the answer to the accidental terrestrial origins thesis and a partial answer to the kids with quadcopters theory.

From what I can find on the web Parkes has a beamwidth of 15 arcminutes so we don't know that the signal is coming from Proxima Centauri, just it's general direction.
posted by rdr at 3:08 AM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


I absolutely don't trust the human race to be able to deal with aliens

Precisely. Sociologically, they are still an unknown and we are well understood. Given their unfortunately close proximity to us, I would be much more worried about their safety than ours.
posted by CynicalKnight at 4:02 AM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


I double checked, that frequency is exactly in the range I suspected. 935-940mhz Land Mobile. Smack in the center, in fact. Anyone remember the old Calypso based phones?
posted by IronLizard at 4:22 AM on January 1, 2021


Oops. Aeronautical radio navigation. I'm going to sleep. Party on.
posted by IronLizard at 4:34 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


WOW!
posted by 6EQUJ5 at 8:49 PM on December 31

We noticed you've waited 7 years to the day (almost) to make this your first post, citizen. We have a few questions we'd like you to answer...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:46 AM on January 1, 2021 [8 favorites]


By the way, this signal only lasted about a day from what I've read. I wonder how long it's going to take them to compare it to everything in this and come up with a suitable excuse.
"COVID made me do it. I thought it was the andromeda strain!"
posted by IronLizard at 4:56 AM on January 1, 2021


To Serve Man
Respectfully submitted for your perusal – a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment, we're going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time.
This is the Twilight Zone.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:04 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Not aliens. Closeness explained by the fact that both our star systems are remnants of an ancient Star Empire. We were part of a civilization spread across the galaxy but lost contact during a conflict known as The Fruit of Our Endless Days. A civil war. Dinosaurs were in charge then. We and the Neanderthals were their allies. The asteroid took out the communications array we used to keep in touch with other planets. There is reason to believe this was an enemy attack.

I'd read this book.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:55 AM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


“At the sound of the long tone the stardate will be 6186.81....”
posted by nubs at 6:07 AM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


We don't use radio to find you.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:15 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


I was just fancying the other day, has it not been argued that at least one must be true 1) AI is impossible, or 2) there are no aliens. If there are aliens in the galaxy and AI is solvable, our galaxy would be littered with robotic life by now.
posted by polymodus at 6:37 AM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan were brought together for nuclear arms negotiations, which the US and the USSR had never done well. (see: Brinkmanship) There was tension between the two men; both men wanted to reduce the amount of nuclear weapons but neither trusted that the other would follow through.

Reagan being Reagan, they went off-script, went outdoors for a walk, just the two men and their interpreters. Reagan asked Gorbachev if the USSR would help the US if there was in invasion from outer space. Gorbachev said yes, of course he would. And Reagan told him that the US would absolutely help the USSR if *they* were under attack.

Here's Gorbachev:
"From the fireside house, President Reagan suddenly said to me, 'What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?'

"I said, 'No doubt about it.'"

"He said, 'We too.'"


That broke the tension between the two men. They came back from that walk smiling and laughing, enjoying each others company, enjoying their time together. It helped build the friendship between them; something I didn't know until about 20 minutes ago is that they wrote over 40 personal letters back and forth, many hand-written.

In his book, Gorbachev: His Life and Times, William Taubman writes that during Reagan’s Moscow visit in 1988, a reporter asked the president at the Kremlin whether he still considered Russia the “evil empire.”

No,” Reagan replied. “That was another time, another era.” Another reporter asked whether the two were now old friends. “Da! Da!” Gorbachev said, with Reagan adding, “Yes.

~~~~~

Turns out that Reagan was a huge sci-fi fan, a lot of his reading as a child and many movies important to him just overall were sci-fi, And it influenced how he saw things, and how he governed. Here's a bit from Smithsonian Magazine:
During his tenure in the White House, Reagan relied on The Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy, a think tank made up of astronauts, engineers and even science-fiction writers like Robert Heinlein and Jerry Pournelle, for advice on future technology and the emerging importance of space policy.

More than once he included references to possible intelligent life in our universe, and possibly to show up here and say "Hi!" to us. (OK, he didn't say that they were going to say "Hi!" to us but he did reference stuff.)

This drove Colin Powell nuts. He'd mutter "Here he comes with the little green men bit." and he'd remove it from the speech; more than once Reagan put it back in. (Too bad Reagan didn't have Powell thrown into a burning house, or maybe in front of a bus; Little Georgie and his merry band of mass murderers would have had to have someone else to get up in front of god and everybody and lie like the rug on the floor: "Weapons of mass destruction! Weapons of mass destruction!".)

I have only learned this bit about Reagan in the past year, and it has caused me to give him grudging admiration, and it makes me wonder if there is anything else which would make me to see him as less than odious. I spent many, many hours listening to KPFT (Pacifica radio in Houston) when I lived in Houston and any time his name was spoken there you would hear the sounds of people retching, hanging themselves, etc. One of the best things I have done in my adult life is to give my Trump loving, Jesus jumping, Rush Limbaugh adoring brother-in-law a billed cap from the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan; I suspect he knew and knows that it was given in the spirit of utter disdain attempting to hide underneath a hand filled with olive branches.

In other words, if you know anything else that's great or even good about Ronald Reagan, please don't tell me about it.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:54 AM on January 1, 2021 [11 favorites]


Wouldn't an integer in base 10 also be an integer in every other base?
I agree with this. That it very nearly lines up with a second is pretty suspicious, as pointed out above. But, big round numbers do happen sometimes. There's a statistics masters thesis out there waiting to be written on how to handle this properly using Bayesian methods and various assumptions about what makes a number sufficiently special.

I really want to know more about the apparent Doppler shift. Can you build a plausible orbit that fits it? It's true making a narrow-band ~1 GHz signal in an astrophysical environment is pretty hard to understand. Presumably if they've measured it to one part in a million it's got a Q of at least tens of thousands. That's pretty hard to do in an astrophysical plasma, and it's really low energy for most of the atoms and molecules that can be found in large numbers in space.

I want to believe. (Though, talking to the Guardian before posting the arXiv is a bit disappointing and doesn't inspire confidence. Unless I've just missed it when searching.)
posted by eotvos at 8:01 AM on January 1, 2021


I figure every Christian is going to figure they weren't selected for rapture and

my fave take* on the rapture is that it's real, it's going to happen. All of a sudden a whole bunch of colossal religious assholes are going to disappear into space en masse ... and the world will immediately become a more friendly and loving place.


* thanks, Robert Anton Wilson
posted by philip-random at 9:20 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


I agree with this. That it very nearly lines up with a second is pretty suspicious, as pointed out above. But, big round numbers do happen sometimes. There's a statistics masters thesis out there waiting to be written on how to handle this properly using Bayesian methods and various assumptions about what makes a number sufficiently special.

It's not just that it's a big round number, it's that it's a big round number based on a very specific implementation of a universal constant. A second is basically a very specific number based on the base 60 division of Earth's day redefined to be 9,192,631,770 hyperfine transitions of a Cs-133 atom. An alien culture would have no idea of what a MHz is little alone that they can transmit using an integer of it to get our attention.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:27 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't an integer in base 10 also be an integer in every other base?

This dragged me down a rabbit hole of non-integer bases and weird numerical coincidences in physics.

Let's say aliens exist. Do aliens think about numbers in terms of integers? Do they need to? Would they want to when communicating with life of other origins?

Do aliens know what a second means to us? Would they be so advanced as to analyse our solar system, the distance between our planet and sun, and the nature of our seasons and how we evolved notions of time, to get to a second?

Are there representations of this particular frequency in other human-agnostic counting systems, perhaps based on fundamental physical constants?

It seems hard not to be skeptical. Even ignoring our aforementioned electronics that output this frequency, this number looks special to us, only because that number is based on how we describe the universe to ourselves.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:29 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


There's a whole whack of technology of human origin that is not currently on the Earth.

Frex, subsequent 800-day mission completed in 2019, launched again last May...
posted by XMLicious at 9:31 AM on January 1, 2021


It seems hard not to be skeptical. Even ignoring our aforementioned electronics that output this frequency, this number looks special to us, only because that number is based on how we describe the universe to ourselves.

Exactly. If aliens really wanted to get attention on a universal scale, one would transmit at something like half the frequency of a well known emission line like 710.2MHz, half the frequency of the hydrogen line. You don't need to know things like seconds or meters, only that hydrogen emits radio at twice this frequency.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:32 AM on January 1, 2021 [10 favorites]


I found one hit in the FCC database for an active allocation on 982 MHz, Crawford County Airport Authority in Illinois.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:34 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


Dark forest or not, China's Race To Find Aliens First
posted by Mchelly at 9:43 AM on January 1, 2021


They’re asking if we have seen some silver monoliths they misplaced.

“Three point five metres tall, triangular in cross-section. Reward: 400 quatloos if returned.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:49 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


The Wright link makes one thing clear: somebody leaked the story to the Guardian before they got done analyzing it. This is journalism, not science, which is why the only data is a bunch of quotes. It's clear that while they can't explain it yet, they fully expect it's human-caused. Presumably when they do publish, they'll have figured out the actual source and propose ways to filter it out.
posted by netowl at 10:01 AM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, the signal decodes as “This user has defriended you.”
posted by Thorzdad at 10:08 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


“Take us to your leader.”

“This is a little awkward, but could we ask you to come back in maybe a month? That’d be great.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:10 AM on January 1, 2021 [10 favorites]


makes me wonder if there is anything else which would make me see him as less than odious

A novel for you, dancestoblue, from 1997: Time On My Hands by Peter Delacorte.
posted by Rash at 10:16 AM on January 1, 2021


I've heard from reliable sources that the message has been decoded and it is being interpreted roughly as "Sorry we are late for your scheduled demolition." posted by loquacious at 7:44 PM on December 31 [42 favorites +] [!]

I was reluctant to add my favorite to the previous 42.
posted by Surely This at 10:29 AM on January 1, 2021 [13 favorites]


Aren’t the distances too vast for meaningful data transfer or transit given our current understanding of the limitations of physics and the human lifespan? Suppose we detect intelligent aliens 400 light years away — what could we do? Even 4 light years seems impossibly far.
posted by interogative mood at 10:30 AM on January 1, 2021


We simply will come together as a planet with a long term vision for humanity and bequeath an awesome gift for generations to come.





Ha ha! Psyche!
posted by mazola at 10:45 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


This is probably not the place to mention that the number of seconds in a year is equal to pi times 10^7 to a precision of better than half a percent. It's a handy mnemonic.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:50 AM on January 1, 2021 [10 favorites]


The Square Kilometre Array, once complete, is thought to be able to detect radio chatter like the earth emits from up to 150ly away. So if we had a real signal, some might want to send enough of a primer to let them understand language, bootstrapping access to the whole firehose of earth culture.

(Let the SO SORRY I'm broadcasting spaceward as I post this message be my contribution.)
posted by joeyh at 10:54 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


There's such a broad assumption that aliens we managed to locate would be more advanced than we are. What if they're just some struggling nerds with a telescope and budget problems?

It's a pretty reasonable assumption, though. Given how vast space is, and how long a timeline the universe operates on, unless you assume that there is something so special and specific (and totally unknown) about the timeline of our own evolution to this point that it must be true of alien life as well*, then it is vastly more likely that any alien life we hear from would be at a very different point in their development of technology from where we happen to be right now. And if that very different point is in the wrong direction, we wouldn't be hearing from them at all - outside of signal fires we've only been beaming around electromagnetic waves as a communication tool for around 120 years ourselves.

*Though if you DO start from that assumption, closer stars are the only places worth looking I guess, for now at least.
posted by solotoro at 11:32 AM on January 1, 2021


Sociologically ... we are well understood.

[citation needed]
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:33 AM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Klaatu barada ickto
posted by y2karl at 11:49 AM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


Hot Singles near you in Proxima Centauri
posted by ctmf at 12:32 PM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


illustrating that the signal contains information—it is not a pure “dialtone” or “doorbell”.


Even assuning that it has to be a communication attempt. It's still interesting even if someone accidentally echo-ranged us with some sonar/radar-like instrument, or it's a feedback squeal from the universe-wide PA aystem.
posted by ctmf at 12:39 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: the universe-wide PA system.
posted by Rash at 1:24 PM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


newsflash - we have just received the translation

"we will build a wall around proxima centuari and we'll get the earth to pay for it"
posted by pyramid termite at 1:35 PM on January 1, 2021 [7 favorites]


Given their unfortunately close proximity to us, I would be much more worried about their safety than ours.

Proxima Centauri is 40,208,000,000,000 kilometers away. The Parker solar probe is currently the fastest traveling satellite, at 716667 km/ hr. If we plug in the numbers...

(40,208,000,000,000/716667)/(24*365) = 6404.58 years to travel there.Or, longer than recorded civilization.

In the extremely unlikely case there is life on Proxima Centuri, they have nothing to worry about from us.
posted by happyroach at 1:42 PM on January 1, 2021


the signal contains information

"Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine"

Probably they're asking us for our Netflix password. Terrestrial TV has gotten boring these days, they want to know what this "Queen's Gambit" thing is about.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:51 PM on January 1, 2021


Aren’t the distances too vast for meaningful data transfer or transit
Transit? Yes. Any even vaguely plausible spaceship would take decades to get to Proxima Centauri. Data transfer on the other hand...

According to this article at Centauri Dreams - which has lots of citations to real science papers - you could put two 100 microwatt transmitters at the gravitational focal points of the sun and Alpha Centauri, and get nearly perfect data transfer between them.

Albeit with a ping time of about 8.5 years.
posted by Hatashran at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


Talk about lag...

Don't care how good they are, the lag is intolerable
posted by Windopaene at 2:52 PM on January 1, 2021


I believe that humans will not, and even cannot, have the resources to develop space travel without first eliminating war, poverty, injustice, etc. Spawning ourselves to other planets involves such a collection and expenditure of energy that it's just impossible to do it when wasting so much on destruction and even pointless comfort and diversion. Therefore, I am optimistic that if aliens do visit us, they will be of the peaceful variety. Further, if they are here now, they might just be willing to stop us from killing ourselves, but possibly only as a last resort. Which means that if they are getting ready to announce, we are on the cusp.
posted by hypnogogue at 2:56 PM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


Don't care how good they are, the lag is intolerable

git gud
posted by curious nu at 3:00 PM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


Also let’s not conflate intelligent life out there with science fiction monsters here.
posted by badbobbycase at 7:05 PM on December 31

No doubt, the sci-fi monsters that run this planet are anything but intelligent life.
posted by symbioid at 3:08 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


It's probably something innocuous like the first quark-fission bomb test.
posted by ctmf at 3:47 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


They're probably mining bitcoin.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 4:20 PM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Newspaper aliens don't interest or scare me half as much as the nuclear payload that Elon Musk apparently "needs" to send into space in order to nuke mars into becoming habitable.
posted by abuckamoon at 5:38 PM on January 1, 2021


Remember: the Pusher robot is inferior, malfunctioning, and not to be trusted.
posted by rhizome at 5:51 PM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


According to Centauri Dreams the focal point where we need to place that transmitter is a 550 astronomical units(au) away. Voyager 1 is only 149 au away for scale and 179 au = 1 light day.
posted by interogative mood at 6:06 PM on January 1, 2021


My own take on the Fermi Paradox is that any alien species advanced enough to contact us would also be advanced enough to not need anything from us. Furthermore, they would be advanced enough to know the potential dangers — to us as well as themselves — of contacting us. I suppose it's possible an alien species could see us as a threat and want to wipe us out preemptively (it's the only way to be sure!), but again, if they were advanced enough to know about us, they would also be advanced enough to know how far we are from developing interstellar travel.

The only use an advanced alien species could possibly have for us would be entertainment. We'll make great pets.
posted by panama joe at 6:08 PM on January 1, 2021


An alien culture would have no idea of what a MHz is little alone that they can transmit using an integer of it to get our attention.

Unless they've been observing the structure of the radio spectrum the Earth has been emitting for almost a century...

Edit: I just checked, and it doesn't appear that any interstellar radio messages have been aimed at Alpha Centauri.
posted by The Tensor at 6:29 PM on January 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


That's what I was thinking! Sending out a frequency that's a recognizable constant would tell us that there's someone out there. Sending out a frequency that's a recognizable constant tied to a unit of measurement specific to our species is saying, we're here, and we see you.

Theoretically.
posted by MrVisible at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


we're here, and we see you.

Now you're making them sound stalker-y.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:40 PM on January 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


[T]he focal point where we need to place that transmitter is 550 astronomical units(au) away
True; that page is more about communicating with probes that we've sent there. If we can send a probe 4.25 light years to the Centauri system, we can certainly send a transmitter and receiver .01 light years in the opposite direction.

And if we got a radio blast today from the Centauris telling us that they're sending us the galactic Wikipedia via that point, we could probably have something up and running in 15-20 years.
posted by Hatashran at 7:42 PM on January 1, 2021


A link to Terry Bisson's famous short-short story for those of you who didn't get zardoz's "They're made of meat" reference.
posted by neuron at 9:16 PM on January 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


we're here, and we see you.

Now you're making them sound stalker-y.


“We’ve broken the compression! It’s ‘Your Eyes’ by Peter Gabriel!”
posted by condour75 at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


My own take on the Fermi Paradox is that any alien species advanced enough to contact us would also be advanced enough to not need anything from us.

Most people working on SETI and similar projects are probably smarter than me, but I've never understood why "aliens" have always been framed as creatures very similar to us.

Why does "intelligent" life have to have any of our physical features or systems (digestive system, nervous system, etc.).

Why wouldn't they have "intelligence" in a completely novel or "alien" way, like how lichen can somehow figure out what they need and act on it. Not radios or satellites, but patterns or systems in space that seem to come together inexplicably.
posted by ishmael at 9:49 AM on January 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


The only thing SETI needs is that aliens use radio. Aliens, if they exist, live in the same universe as us, with the same physics. Radio, or other parts of the spectrum, allows you to communicate at the speed of light over long distances. That's so useful that it's a good guess that some chunk of alien cultures would invent some form of it. Also, we can't build systems to monitor stuff we don't understand.
posted by rdr at 11:02 AM on January 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


except speed of light is dead slow in a relative sense when you're dealing with something even a few light years away. Sirius seems to matter a lot to some -- it's 8.6 years away. For all we know, it exploded in 2013 sometime and we still haven't noticed.
posted by philip-random at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


It will be a long time and perhaps never after we detect alien radio signals before we can get a clear enough signal even try to get any data from it. My understanding is that there is a popular misconception that detection is the same as being able to get useful info from it.
posted by interogative mood at 12:03 PM on January 2, 2021


My impression, and it may be outdated, was that there were points in the last century where Earth would have made the Sun an unusually bright radio star (at least for a G-type main sequence) in some frequencies, and presumably upon closer examination the periodicity would have revealed that the source was something orbiting the star rather than the star being unusual. So the thought was to look for similar items elsewhere.

However, it turned out that as technology improved that there was much less scatter, so it was a passing phase of our technology and probably for anyone else using EM radiation, so not surprising we didn't find anyone.
posted by tavella at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2021


Why wouldn't they have "intelligence" in a completely novel or "alien" way, like how lichen can somehow figure out what they need and act on it.

The argument isn't that alien life will be similar to us, it's that there are a limited number of means to communicate information between individuals or groups over long distances in a timely manner. Many species on Earth communicate with sounds. If they wanted to do that over very long distances or through a vacuum they'd need radio or optical carriers to do it, at least until they managed to use microscopic black holes to create gravitational waves.
posted by wierdo at 3:23 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


Ok, but that interview with a former Israeli General linked upthread is bananas:
Eshed said cooperation agreements had been signed between species, including an "underground base in the depths of Mars" where there are American astronauts and alien representatives.

"There is an agreement between the U.S. government and the aliens. They signed a contract with us to do experiments here," he said.

Eshed added that President Donald Trump was aware of the extraterrestrials' existence and had been "on the verge of revealing" information but was asked not to in order to prevent "mass hysteria."
Tbh, the least believable part of that is Trump keeping his mouth shut. But also, like...this dude was in charge of stuff? Military stuff?
posted by schadenfrau at 4:37 PM on January 2, 2021 [5 favorites]


Assuming there are aliens the Pentagon knows about, I wonder if the people in the know simply conspired to deny everything with Trump, even if he asked directly.

Even beyond Trump, one of the things made clear in the documentary film Independence Day is that Presidents aren't made aware of these things in general.
posted by brundlefly at 5:59 PM on January 2, 2021


"There is an agreement between the U.S. government and the aliens. They signed a contract with us to do experiments here," he said.

I do love the idea of the aliens literally signing a contract. Did they get to keep the pen?
posted by brundlefly at 6:00 PM on January 2, 2021 [6 favorites]


Eshed added that President Donald Trump was aware of the extraterrestrials' existence and had been "on the verge of revealing" information but was asked not to in order to prevent "mass hysteria."

So they do look like the devil?
posted by Pouteria at 6:14 PM on January 2, 2021 [7 favorites]


The argument isn't that alien life will be similar to us, it's that there are a limited number of means to communicate information between individuals or groups over long distances in a timely manner. Many species on Earth communicate with sounds.

True. I'd also argue that the species that use sound to communicate are very similar to us (fish, insects, amphibians).
posted by ishmael at 6:52 PM on January 2, 2021


...one of the things made clear in the documentary film Independence Day is that Presidents aren't made aware of these things in general.

Things go different in the documentary film Mars Attacks.
posted by y2karl at 7:03 PM on January 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


Colonel Maybourne: "Come on Jack, The President doesn't have to know about it."
posted by clavdivs at 7:56 PM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


I do love the idea of the aliens literally signing a contract. Did they get to keep the pen?

Ơ̶̢̨̧̧̨̨̢̡̛̪̠͚̬͍̹̘̻̦̝̥̞̬̩̻͉̞̙̹̣̳̘̳̪͇̞͖̩̫͍̺̩̯̭̝̮̽̉͑͐̅͊͌̿̅͂͒̓̑̾̽̋̀̽̐̑̈́̃̃̌̾̋̌͋͌͌̐̇̇̈́̀̓͗́̅̑̒̇̃̓̔͋́͛́̈́̓̊́̅͛͂̓͐͌́̉͐̍͂̄̎̿̓̀͐̃͛̎̑̋̏̌͑̈̋̀̈́̏̿́̎̒͗̽̽̅̏̄͂̒̊̌͆̀́̓̎̎̆̈́̋̽̀̆͂̀̆́̏̃̍͛̒̓̀̎͌̿̾͑̓̇͑̑̋̂̕̕̕͘̕̚͘͘͠͝͠͝͠͝͝͝͝͝
posted by clavdivs at 8:02 PM on January 2, 2021


But also, like...this dude was in charge of stuff? Military stuff?

I'm reminded of how the US military indirectly benefited from the rumors of aliens at Area 51, because it distracted people from their very real experimental aircraft program.
posted by panama joe at 8:40 PM on January 2, 2021


It's actually pretty amazing what the lack of perspective and depth cues can do to your perception of motion of far away objects. I've seen airliners appear to do some crazy UFO report kind of shit when I happened to be standing in just the right spot at night. Bright light suddenly appears, hangs in the same spot for several minutes, followed by what looks like abrupt maneuvers sort of situation.

In reality, the plane turned on its landing lights as it crossed below 10,000 feet flying close enough to directly at me that it didn't appear to move left or right and continued descending at a rate that kept it at the same angle above the horizon, then when it was much closer (and lower) than my brain expected made a couple of turns to line up with a runway at an airport several miles north. The illusion was quite strong since the landing lights totally overpowered the marker beacons.

It was in that moment I finally understood how so many people had seemingly outlandish flying saucer stories. I still don't get how they don't eventually figure it out, but I get where the initial thought comes from.
posted by wierdo at 9:37 PM on January 2, 2021 [8 favorites]


I do love the idea of the aliens literally signing a contract.

I love the idea of a potential legal drama involving contract disputes between human and alien species. "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth! (About our ten-dimensional hyperreality!)"
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:46 PM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


I love the idea of a potential legal drama involving contract disputes between human and alien species.

I quite liked the television series of Alien Nation, which was sort of using a buddy cop format (human/alien partner team) to do vaguely Star Trek-esque explorations of race and bigotry in the US. Only lasted one season, but was pretty great.

A tangent certainly, but worth mentioning.
posted by hippybear at 8:37 PM on January 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


Okay, been thinking about this one, and I think I've got a good question for people here: If it's 'pitched up' - frequency increasing over the course of the signal - one explanation that's been given is that it's in an orbit that happened to be coming our way at the time.

We should be able to calculate an acceleration profile (i.e., a(t) over the course of the signal). Should be useful for comparing to orbits around Proxima. Or, alternatively, if one were in fact going to build an interstellar probe, one would likely use a propulsion system that continuously accelerates (say, solar sail, whether natural or laser-drive, or nuclear- or antimatter- powered electric propulsion - possibly with a Bussard collector) at a low but constant level. Would be really interesting to compare a(t) to what you might expect in something like that.
posted by Flight Hardware, do not touch at 8:43 PM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


We should be able to calculate an acceleration profile

Agreed; this would not be difficult (and is probably being done by the people analyzing the signal). I haven't seen the time-rate-of-change of the frequency quoted in any of the sources.

Note that the lead author of the analysis has already said publicly that the change in frequency is opposite to what one would expect if the signal were coming from a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri (i.e., that one would expect a signal decreasing in frequency) -- presumably this is based on knowing where the two known planets of Proxima Centauri are in their orbits, how they're moving, how Proxima Centauri is moving, and how the Earth is moving.

Another possibility, of course, is drift in the clock speed of the transmitter. I saw the clock speed stability of those 982 MHz graphics cards quoted as 50 parts per million somewhere on the internet (over what period? who knows). Given that the frequency of the signal has already been reported with a precision of 2 (ish) parts per million based on the number of significant figures in the news stories, I'm guessing that the drift over the 3 hours during which the signal was detected was not greater that this.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:40 AM on January 7, 2021


It's probably just an appointment reminder for our upcoming interview.
posted by homunculus at 7:09 PM on January 12, 2021 [2 favorites]


Scientists have managed to decode the signal. It is an urgent warning for humanity regarding the imminent expiration of our automobile’s warranty.
posted by interogative mood at 4:21 AM on January 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


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