back to article MYSTERY RADIO SIGNAL picked up from BEYOND our GALAXY

The Australian Parkes radiotelescope – even though under threat from budget cuts – has produced its first chunk of science for 2015, and it's a substantial one indeed. The mighty Antipodean instrument has given astronomers their only real-time view so far of the unexplained phenomenon known as the Fast Radio Burst (FRB). FRBs …

  1. stuartnz

    Space is big, my brain just ain't

    " it put out energy equivalent to the Sun's daily output in a few milliseconds" I can't even begin to pretend to grasp this sort of number. Perhaps if it were stated in El Reg standard units?

    1. Martin Budden Bronze badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

      That's a tough one because El Reg doesn't have a standard unit for energy, but it does have a unit for mass. The font of all (dis)information Wikipedia says the energy output of the sun is 9.192×1010 megatons of TNT per second, which is 7941888000000000 megatons of TNT per day, which is 7941888000000000000000 tons of TNT per day, which is... drumroll please...

      the energy of 1.89e+24 Jubs of TNT exploding, in just a few milliseconds!

      I think we can all agree that is more Jubs than anyone can safely handle in one go (no matter how much you might want to).

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

        That's a tough one because El Reg doesn't have a standard unit for energy,

        It clearly needs one.

        1 Joule is 1 Nm, which in Reg units would be 0.0174 Norris linguini (Nolg) (although I have a hard time imagining Chuck with a plate of pasta).

        Thinking of some useful Reg-related activity which requires energy, we can see that a pint of beer weighs around 568g (assuming it's mostly water) and a check with the one-off sample of a beer glass I have to hand suggests around 400g for the glass, so lets take a round 1kg for a full pint glass.

        Lifting it approx 50cm from table to mouth would require approx 5 joules of energy, so I propose to name that one Quaff. This gives us:

        1 Qu = 5J = 0.087 Nolg

        Getting back to the original question, the Wikipedia article quotes the Sun as pumping out 384.6 yotta watts (3.846 e+26 W), which is 3.32 e+31 Joules per day, some 6.64 e+30 Quaffs, or 6,640,000 yottaQuaffs.

        Now I should get back to work...

        1. Thecowking

          Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

          I thought we'd settled on the jelly baby as a unit of energy?

          1. MrNed

            Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

            Whether measured in jelly babies, Quaffs, Nolgs or (the more boring) Joules, that's one serious amount of energy being released. Clearly the Vogons are demolishing planets to make way for a hyperspace expressway.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

          "Lifting it approx 50cm from table to mouth would require approx 5 joules of energy, so I propose to name that one Quaff."

          That's all well and good, it almost sounds like a proper exercise regime, but what's the ratio of calorific intake of 1 Quaff to the energy expended and can we make it negative while still using a decent beer?

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

            can we make it negative while still using a decent beer?

            Funny, I had the same thought, and the answer is, sadly, no, at least not without getting a very sore elbow. A pint of beer contains ~ 180 Calories, which is ~750kJ, or 150 kiloQuaffs.

      2. DropBear Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

        Let me try to put this another (perhaps more familiar) way - apparently the Sun's daily output of energy is the e-equals-mc-square equivalent of the mass of about FIVE MILLION QE aircraft carriers every day (albeit that's without any double decker buses on deck). Now who's glad we don't have to foot THAT bill...?

      3. smudge Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

        That's a tough one because El Reg doesn't have a standard unit for energy, but it does have a unit for mass.

        So doesn't that mean it can have a standard unit for energy, derived from its unit for mass? All you have to do is use the most famous equation in the world.

    2. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

      "The Sun's daily output" IS an El Reg standard unit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The Sun's daily output" IS an El Reg standard unit.

        It might be, but from what I heard on the news this morning, the Sun's daily output will now be a few jubs less than before.

      2. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

        "The Sun's daily output" IS an El Reg standard unit.

        Not any more :-)

      3. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Space is big, my brain just ain't

        "The Sun's daily output" IS an El Reg standard unit.

        2 Bulgarian Airbags, yes?

  2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Alien

    What accounts for fast radio bursts?

    If they decode them, I bet they get:

    "Come on down to Crazy Xorthax's Used Flying Saucer Emporium!! We keep a huge selection of pre-owned space cruisers and astro shuttles, all of them quality-certified by our on-site maintenance shop! And our prices?! Why, they're so low my competition thinks I was born without a second brain! And if you still need financing?--just ask for Honest Kithek in our credit department!! Why, we're practically givin' em away down here! Our secret?--small galaxy overhead with big galaxy volume!

    So, if you need a new UFO now you know the place to go! Crazy Xorthax's, right off exit 3283174 in the Andromeda galaxy! Y'all come down now, ya' hear!!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: What accounts for fast radio bursts?

      Depends upon the information density of the signal, and whether it is compressible - which would suggest a repeating component...

      "We buy any UFO dot com! We buy any UFO dot com! We buy any UFO dot com! We buy any UFO dot com!"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What accounts for fast radio bursts?

        Wacky Waving Inflatable Tentacle-Flailing Tube-Creature!

        Wacky Waving Inflatable Tentacle-Flailing Tube-Creature!

        Wacky Waving Inflatable Tentacle-Flailing Tube-Creature!

    2. sisk Silver badge

      Re: What accounts for fast radio bursts?

      And then of course when we try to call to buy a space cruiser we're going to find out they've been out of business for 5.4 billion years. It's so annoying when the marketing budget outlives the business.

  3. Long John Brass Silver badge

    [tight beam, M32, tra. @n4.28.885.1008]

    xROU Killing Time

    oGCV Grey Area

    Hey ... wanna see the monkeys freak out?

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I love that you've got so many upvotes without anyone having to explain the reference.

      Only on the Reg :)

      1. Chizo Ejindu

        AKA Meatfucker

        Not only do I get the reference, i know which book it's from and approximately where :)

        1. Yugguy

          Re: AKA Meatfucker

          I had to google it.

          1. Steven Raith

            Re: AKA Meatfucker

            Yugguy - go read it. It's great.

            Steven R

    2. TitterYeNot

      [stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.28.885.1189]

      xGCV Grey Area

      oROU Killing Time

      Shhhh ... keep it down - you wouldn't believe the shitstorm I caused last time I played with the monkeys. All I did was reanimate one of them after they nailed it to a tree...

  4. Death Boffin
    Boffin

    Local Sources

    Given that the burst seems to peak in the 1200-1300 MHz band, I would suspect that it come from some anomalous propagation. The source could either be military radar or ham radio, as both occupy that band. A particularly robust meteor trail could provide the necessary source.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Local Sources

      How does a local source equate to the energy output? Is the "suns output" estimate adjusted for attenuation?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Local Sources

        If it didn't account for attenuation we wouldn't be having this conversation

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Local Sources

      Ok, do we get Vulcan visiting rights for detecting a warp drive signature?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Local Sources

        EXPLAIN POLARIZATION!

        1. Uffish

          Re: Polarization

          Find a pair of Polaroid sunglasses, break them and use one lens to filter light from a torch (flashlight) and iluminate an otherwise dark scene with the polarized light. By using the other lens as a polarization analyzer see what reflection and or refraction does to the plane of polarization.

          In general, reflected and refracted em waves have the polarization altered. Linear polarized waves can even end up elliptically polarized and vice versa.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SEND MORE PROBES

    THE LAST ONES WERE DELICIOUS

  6. OvAl

    “We record 8-bit full-polarization data from two orthogonal linear feeds per beam, with 1024 frequency channels over 400 MHz of bandwidth, from 1182 to 1582 MHz, and 64-μs time resolution”

    ...that sounds so much cooler than _any_ part of my job, Today's mission is to insert this quote - either in part or in its entirety - into today's weekly team meeting.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Coat

      "Hey Brian, I've got a new sound system. We were playing around with it last night and we recorded 8-bit full-polarization data from two orthogonal linear feeds per beam, with 1024 frequency channels over 400 MHz of bandwidth, from 1182 to 1582 MHz, and 64-μs time resolution.

      It sounded like that time we put the cat through the mangle when it was wet"

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Management

      I suppose that's the current equivalent of those days when my technical associate and I used to converse about interociter issues across the table during Senior Management Meetings. They were duly minuted, once we had confirmed the spelling...(Have I got it right?)

  7. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Alien

    R2

    This is what happens if you go lightspeed while still listening to Radio2. A polarization vortex induces positive feedback into the antenna creating an unstable Mega-Wogan. Under inter-galactic law this is actually a crime.

  8. tech_is_BS

    Boffins - the most annoying word ever. Why the hell is the Reg so in love with it?

    1. ashdav

      Boffins - the most annoying word ever. Why the hell is the Reg so in love with it?

      If you need to ask that question, I think you're on the wrong website.

    2. Just Enough
      Boffin

      More research needed

      I don't know why the Reg is so in love with it.

      Perhaps we should put some boffins to work and find out.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: More research needed

        The Reg recently used 'Boffins' in this article: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/01/17/boffins_its_easy_to_make_you_grass_yourself_up_for_crimes_you_never_did/

        whereas the Reg of old would have used the term 'Trick cyclists'. What's changed?

        The old Reg had the tacit understanding that 'boffins' either made cool stuff- like explosions, laser-equipped sharks and robots - or otherwise used maths so complicated that blackboards would collapse under the weight of chalk and us lesser mortals would get a headache just looking in the general direction of one of their published papers.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Boffins != trick cyclists

          The Reg uses both, and they have a different meaning in Reg-editor-speak.

    3. Avatar of They

      Really?

      You have read some of the maths being banded about here, this place is filled with boffins.

  9. flearider
    Alien

    now we just have to slow it down and decode it ...prob just the history of a billion yr old race ..

    1. Mooseman Bronze badge

      Slowed down and decoded..."Vell....Zaphod's just zis guy, you know?"

      1. Steven Raith

        Slowed down and reversed it's

        "HAIL SATAN AND ALL THE DENIZENS OF HELL WHO WILL COME BEFORE HIM TO CLEAR THE WAY FOR HIS MILLION YEAR REIGN"

        Steven R

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Decoded

      .- .-.. .-.. -.-- --- ..- .-. -... .- ... . .- .-. . -... . .-.. --- -. --. - --- ..- ...

      We have confirmed it was not, repeat NOT 'We are the world'. Minsters are reminded of the advice by Pellegrino & Zebrowski prior to attempting any reply:

      1. THEIR SURVIVAL WILL BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR SURVIVAL.

      If an alien species has to choose between them and us, they won't choose us. It is difficult to imagine a contrary case; species don't survive by being self-sacrificing.

      2. WIMPS DON'T BECOME TOP DOGS.

      No species makes it to the top by being passive. The species in charge of any given planet will be highly intelligent, alert, aggressive, and ruthless when necessary.

      3. THEY WILL ASSUME THAT THE FIRST TWO LAWS APPLY TO US.

      1. sisk Silver badge

        Re: Decoded

        THEY WILL CORRECTLY ASSUME THAT THE FIRST TWO LAWS APPLY TO US.

        TIFTFW

  10. TWB

    64us?....

    That is the period for 1 line of 625 line SD video.. hmmm...coincidence?...

    (no not the active line period, that is 52 or 51.95 if talking analogue)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 64us?....

      64US... 6/4=2, 6/2=3....

      Half Life 3 CONFIRMED!

  11. Extra spicey vindaloo

    Probably something big being ripped apart (mass converting to energy) and falling into the blackhole (strong magnetic source).

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      I would have thought those type of events would be a bit slower than the time-frame for this observation though.

      1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

        Unless the event is traveling towards us very very very quickly?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Unless the event is traveling towards us very very very quickly?"

          That would be news in itself, as everything else in the universe is moving away.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Mushroom

            "Unless the event is traveling towards us very very very quickly"

            In that case, and at the energy levels reported, we are probably all toast in the morning.

          2. NumptyScrub

            That would be news in itself, as everything else in the universe is moving away.

            Apart from Andromeda, of course, which is coming over to say hi sometime in the next 4 billion years. And it's impossible to say one way or the other regarding anything outside of the "observable universe" boundary.

            The vast majority of stuff definitely seems to be actively avoiding us, though ^^;

            1. Alien8n Silver badge

              It's almost like the entire Universe has taken one look at Earth and gone "nope!"

              1. NumptyScrub

                It's evidence of spiral galaxy bigotry at work, I tell ya!

              2. sisk Silver badge

                It's almost like the entire Universe has taken one look at Earth and gone "nope!"

                We waste our time arguing over things like who's allowed to boink whom while tearing up the environment and killing each other over which ideology is better. Can you really blame them from trying to get away from us?

  12. roger stillick
    Alien

    AstroPulse= a 2010 Parks project ??

    REF= Wiki, AstroPulse...Potential pulse finds... in 2010 Parks found 16 obvious terrestial signals... per the Wiki Article, none of this pulse research has actually been made public...this is the first.

    IMHO= what we have here is first AstroPulse... NOT mentioning SETI or AstroPulse means they are using spare time as today's SETI stuff is privately scheduled / funded everywhere by folks who can afford to throw a small part of their funding towards non-mainstream science... REALITY= Parks is P/O the Austrialian Telescope National Facility in the Soutern Hemisphere using this microwave band for the last 50 years...many discoveries from Parks dish...RS.

    1. Martin Budden Bronze badge
      WTF?

      Re: AstroPulse= a 2010 Parks project ??

      eh?

      1. ashdav

        Re: AstroPulse= a 2010 Parks project ??

        I think roger is related to amanfrommars

    2. roger stillick
      Alien

      Re: AstroPulse= a 2010 Parks project ??

      All= Parks L-Band rcvr employes a wide band FDM multichannel radiometer using in-house FFT on each channel... probably 40 years old kit but still a Radio Telescope that works just fine...only a few of these left worldwide and L-Band is being looked at for mobile fone use as military and maritime radar is using bands above X-Band / 10 ghz for their present day kit.

      the Austrailian Government in their "Science will no longer be funded if it doesn't yield a monetary return" has decided Parks is Redundant and will be closed / dismantled this year.

      IMHO= this is the "last hurrah" of a unique museum piece that does not deserve the Benchly Park system of archiving ( take a pix , then bin it) and pix of the surrounding area cry for with at least an interpretive center b/4 being torn down and the scientists made redundant.

      When this is gone, it will not be replaced..ever...RS.

  13. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
    Alien

    Spock Mode On

    Fascinating.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Coat

      I find your observation...

      ...Spock-on!

      0^0

      Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: I find your observation...

        Surely...

        ^0^

        </Spock off>

  14. The last doughnut

    I would like to know how they determined the distance of the emission at 5G light years? The terrestrial HF via meteor burst would seem the more likely explanation.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
      Boffin

      Dispersion. (The difference in arrival time of different frequencies indicates the distance travelled.)

      I'm not a radio astronomer, but an AMS faq suggests meteor pulses are much longer (milliseconds to seconds) and easy to recognise.

      1. Uffish

        Re: meteor showers etc

        Radar pulses glinting off satelites, or reflected from meteor showers, etc etc.

        There are well known EM pulses with high DM detected on earth in large numbers, but which are strictly Earth based. "Whistlers" are very low frequency pulses (but lasting seconds not mlliseconds) and result from lightning flashes 'streched' by earth based plasma.

        Obviously whistler signals are not FRBs and obviously the boffins have been hard at work before suggesting the origin of the signals but a close-to-home origin doesn't seem to have been definitively ruled out yet.

        Occam's razor and all that.

  15. ukgnome

    Seems a remarkable coincidence that this occurs at the same time as the infinite monkey cage starts again on R4

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re. Infinite Monkey Cage.

      THANK YOU!

      I always forget about that one and end up accidentally finding it at the end of the series. Tivo now set with series link :-)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Contact

    Not even a single reference to Contact?

    "A second layer, nested within the main signal; possibly... a picture? Product of three primes..."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Re: Contact

      Its Galactacus the misspelled giant alien on his/her way

      1. Flugal

        Re: Contact

        Wasn't that in a song by some Aussie bloke? Rolf something I think.

        "Now the ladies of the harem of the court of King Galactacus, were just passing by..."

        Whatever happened to him I wonder?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Contact

          Whatever happened to him I wonder?

          Some of the young ladies didn't pass by.

        2. Yugguy

          Re: Contact

          Worst 6 words to hear before having sex:

          "Can you guess what it is yet?"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Contact

            "Worst 6 words to hear before having sex:"

            I thought it was 5:

            "There were two little boys"

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Contact

              "Ever seen a didgeridoo?"

          2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Contact

            > Worst 6 words to hear before having sex

            These are 7. Words.

            1. Yugguy

              Re: Contact

              Feck, you're right. Good job I'm not a radio scientist.

              #

              Worst four words to hear AFTER sex?

              "Ows about that then?"

  17. macjules Silver badge

    Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station ..

    Lucky we only caught the tail end of that one I think.

    1. Simon Westerby 1

      Re: Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station ..

      It happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away...

      No wonder it took so long to arrive....

  18. kryptonaut
    Boffin

    Could it be...

    a Dirac beep?

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Could it be...

      I'd forgotten about that one! I need to download more James Blish to my ereader and revisit some old favourites, just as I've done with (what I think is) the entire corpus of Heinlein work.

  19. harmjschoonhoven
    Stop

    Re: The FRB is well outside the Milky Way, at 5.5 billion light-years' distance.

    A radio telescope cannot measure the distance to a source. It can only measure the DM (the burst is detected later at lower frequencies). The standard interpretation is that the radio signal traversed a tenuous plasma in our 'own' Galaxy and - if the RM is larger - in the extragalactic medium or near the source.

    The large circular polarization of 21±7% for FRB 140514 hints at extraordinary conditions at the source. A distance of 5.5 billion light-years for FRB 140514 is an upper limit.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, the final feedback on the Reg redesign is now incoming. I'm sure it'll all be positive, just like it was here on Earth.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Alien

      Get ready for turd impact!

  21. Dave 42

    Oops! The writer sadly didn't follow the Register's style guide - the words are Spaaaace and Gaaalaaaxy

  22. Florida1920
    Alert

    Your message could not be delivered

    At 5.5 billion light-years distance, this email with attached circularly polarized lulz cat video, was sent 1 beelion years before the formation of our planet.

    I can now reveal its decoded text contents. It's a chain email. Unless each recipient forwards it to 20 other civilizations by midnight Saturday, they are doomed. How the senders knew we'd be here to decode this message now may never be known, because the Chronicles end with

    <Winnt_root>\System32\Hal.dll missing or corrupt:

    Please re-install a copy of the above file.

    I hope the boffins at Parkes know what to do next.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Your message could not be delivered

      MAXO signals!

  23. Alien8n Silver badge
    Alien

    Battlestar Galactica

    "Cylon base station to Cylon attack fleet, commence attack now..."

  24. Alien8n Silver badge

    In seriousness though

    The main thing to note about this is that we do not know of anything that could produce this burst, or of anything strong enough magnetically to affect it in such a way. Wonderful thing physics, we're still learning new stuff daily :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In seriousness though

      How about Magnetars? They will erase your VISA from light years away.

      1. harmjschoonhoven

        Re: How about Magnetars?

        They will erase your VISA from light years away.

        Nop, even a magnetar with 10^12T has to be at the distance of Jupiter to make its magnetic field 5 times stronger than the geomagnetic field. May be enough to erase your VISA, but I guess you will have other things to worry about with a magnetar in your backyard.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How about Magnetars?

          Is that a magnetar in your backyard or are you just electrified by me?

  25. unwarranted triumphalism

    So they've just resorted to falsifying data now?

    Sad, but somewhat predictable. No wonder there is no longer any interest in the wasteful and pointless space programme.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
      WTF?

      I don't suppose you want to elaborate on any of that posting?

      No, thought not.

  26. Nunya Biznas
    Big Brother

    Cave Johnson here

    Uh, yeah that was us, it says Paul is dead. The researchers during our extra-earth outsourcing initiative thought it would be funny to bounce it off a distant pulsar, too bad they are all too dead to hear it. Damn hippies, When life gives you lemons...

    Cave Johnson, We're done here.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Why don't you call me maybe?"

  28. Optimist
  29. illiad

    "The Sun's daily output"

    has gone down a bit, due to no page 3 girl....

  30. Mutino
    Mushroom

    It's as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Also known as the Chilcott Report ...

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