back to article Finally, a use for your mobile phone: Snapping ALIEN signal blurts

Friends, take out your mobiles in the name of science! Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are trying to look for fast radio bursts in the Milky Way galaxy with “low-cost radio receivers.” And by that, they mean, your smartphones. Galactic fast radio bursts (FRBs) have left astronomers scratching …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Black Helicopters

    Basically app monitors phone for glitch in reception and sends your GPS ords and time

    (to withing 100ns) to a central location.

    Curiously I find myself unenthusiastic about doing so.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Basically app monitors phone for glitch in reception and sends your GPS ords and time

      I can understand your lack of enthusiasm for that. However, a small radio receiver plugged into the usb port of a desktop computer would be fine, provided the innards and software were open source.

      Many astronomy enthusiasts around the world would be happy to be part of a giant radio telescope array and would also be happy to devote part of their cpu power to crunching the massive data set that would be produced.

  2. Mage Silver badge
    Boffin

    Phones, SDRs etc

    Too much attenuation and interference at ground level. Really you'd want a roof top "discone" and a receiver listening on an unused part of 900MHz to 2GHz, though most of it is in use.

    A GPS unit has multiple 1.4GHz receivers, but too specialist, as are the radio sets in a Smart phone.

    A cheap USB TV stick has a "bypass mode" and will allow 850MHz to 1700MHz, but it's only 8 bit so you'd want a pre-filter, AGC, LNA and outdoor aerial like a discone. From about $6

  3. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Alien

    "...if the blazes could be linked to “advanced civilizations” living far away in the cosmos."

    I bet they can. It's those kind of advanced civilisation that wipe out other civilisations with high-energy radiation. What we detect here is probably the ricochet equivalent of electromagnetic radiation.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fast Ray Bursts

    Not technically part of the article but what if the reason FRBs are so fast is that out planet is like the opposite of that one from ST:Voy? Rather than being super fast we are in fact super slow compared to the rest of the galaxy?

    1. Pete4000uk

      Re: Fast Ray Bursts

      Gosh, I remember that episode!

    2. Rattus Rattus

      Re: "we are in fact super slow"

      To judge by most of the people I have met, I think you might be on to something there.

  5. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Re. Aliens

    I wonder if perhaps FRBs are being used as the alien equivalent of pulsars.

    If you know when/where a given event occured then you can triangulate your position by referencing to a known clock and using two different sensors spaced at a known distance in much the same way as GPS works.

    Not sure if the timing of these events would be good enough for navigation over interstellar distances but it would be handy to know if Ship A is 2.5LY away from Ship B or 3.1LY.

    The latest optical lattice clocks gain or lose less than 1 second in 31BY so even compensating for time dilation its not hard at all and in fact if you listen in to the right frequency (eg 11.026GHz) the next time there is an FRB after a short delay of twice the mean path distance there would be a response signal if you were in the beam.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Re. Aliens

      Why bother emulating pulsars when you can use real pulsars for navigation - all you need is the angles to 3 or more known pulsars and you have your relative position.

      The paper actually suggests the beams might be propulsion for light sails which seems a tad unlikely but it's a big old universe so literally anything is possible.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Re. Aliens

        Why bother emulating pulsars when you can use real pulsars for navigation

        Extra-galactic government decisions processes?

  6. Red Bren
    Mushroom

    "He also said their origin was “so puzzling” that it led him to write a paper that examined if the blazes could be linked to “advanced civilizations” dying far away in the cosmos."

    FTFY.

    Can we have a "That's no moon!" icon?

  7. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Presumably these advanced civilizations would be the sort that spontaneously explode for no adequately explored reason.

    1. Flakk Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Well, that is one of the possible consequences of hosting a "Disaster Area" show.

    2. mr.K
      Mushroom

      Re: Bah!

      Do you mean something like the Great Collapsing Hrung Disaster?

  8. Mike Richards

    I've got a better chance of picking up a FRB than getting 4G on the O2 network.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Its signal would be approximately 1GHz ... detected by mobile phones, Wi‑Fi or GPS. The idea is to create a “Citizens-Science” app that would continuously listen for and record radio signals."

    Hmmm, so finally we could find a use for all the Netgear routers with gaping security holes - commandeer them to search for FRBs.

    1. Ogi

      > Hmmm, so finally we could find a use for all the Netgear routers with gaping security holes - commandeer them to search for FRBs.

      Interesting idea, if of questionable ethics. You would still need some distributed scientific project to submit your FRBs to.

      Made me wonder if anyone built a botnet of compromised machines that churned through distributed scientific projects like Boinc/seti/folding@home...

      1. Pirate Dave Silver badge
        Pirate

        As someone who once slipped the SETI@home client into the ghost image for our lab computers, I can say that there was once a herd of "compromised" machines here running SETI@home. But, hey, it got me into the Top-500 list for academics.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Awesome, Dave! Science thanks you! I used to run the shit out of SETI and BOINC on my old mirror-door macs. One of the blokes from a previous job took his Windows SETI clients and hooked them to the idle process and as the machines in the lab (shit, I hope it was the lab and not our real client hosts) "idled" they were running his units and pushing up his stats like crazy. Wish I thought of that. :P

          1. Pirate Dave Silver badge
            Pirate

            SETI@home was a bit of an obsession for me 17 or so years ago. I had ~30 old motherboards at home in the crawlspace under the kitchen running it - each mobo hanging from a floor joist by a screw through the standoff hole, along with it's attendant hard drive and power supply held on by strands of Cat5 wire. Everything from 25 MHz 486DX's to 600 MHz P3's. All running the Linux client under RedHat 6.2 (the ORIGINAL 6.2, not the renumbered Fedora stuff). Those were the days. The wife finally got fed up with the power bills and told me to take it all down. :(

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Hacked routers

        Heh, good idea!

        Minor hardware mod involving the crystal, disable the TX completely and use the (thus freed up) RX portion as a software defined radio centred on the 1 GHz band.

        It would probably work natively too, have its CPU compress the raw data and hand off to Pi vian GPIO over the front panel LEDs.

        Might have a go at this when my DG834Gs finally get annoying enough, up to 4 nuke-and-pave so far

        and replacement 8 pin ADSL baseband chips because the lightning keeps frying them.

  10. elawyn

    The universe is how big?

    "[Since] the size of the Milky Way is a million times smaller than the size of the Universe,"

    Was this written by a Donald Trump supporter?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The universe is how big?

      "...the size of the Milky Way is a million times smaller than the size of the Universe,"

      This is about right if we use the lower bound for the estimated size of our Milky Way galaxy:

      The diameter of our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be 100-180 thousand light years = 1E5 ly (lower bound)

      The diameter of the observable universe is estimated to be 93 billion light years (Gly) = 0.93E11 ly

      ...so the ratio is about 1:1E6, or 1 to 1 million.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The universe is how big?

        The diameter of the observable universe is estimated to be 93 billion light years (Gly) = 0.93E11 ly

        "Observable" would appear to be a key limiting factor here. Are you saying that IS the size of the universe, or just the bit we can see?

        And either way if positing a finite universe, what's outside it?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The universe is how big?

          [re: referring to the observable universe] "Are you saying that IS the size of the universe..."

          I explicitly qualified what I said to avoid ambiguity.

          "And either way if positing a finite universe, what's outside it?"

          The first definition of 'Universe' is usually along the lines of: "the totality of known or supposed objects and phenomena throughout space; the cosmos; macrocosm.". This can be slightly shortened to 'the totality of everything that exists or is thought to exist', so the idea of anything existing that it not part of the universe is an oxymoron.

          In the context of that question, you really need to define 'outside' for any meaningful answer.

  11. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    I'll pass

    No idea what such an application would do to my battery life, but judging on the power the GPS slurps, it won't be good.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'll pass

      I agree, but they are more ubiquitous than how ever many Raspberry PIs I, or other embedded enthusiasts, can dedicate to this task. No problem there, just do the data collection site and software, a GPIO hardware kit, and I'll supply the PI, antenna, and my power and net. I'd be happy to have a few PIs doing this distributed science project. Great stuff!

  12. Lou 2
    Facepalm

    "[Since] the size of the Milky Way is a million times smaller than the size of the Universe"

    - wait the Universe is finite? Someone has been lying to me!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "- wait the Universe is finite? Someone has been lying to me!"

      I believe that the current consensus is that the Universe is finite but unbounded.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I believe that the current consensus is that the Universe is finite but unbounded.

        I call foul!

        Bloody scientists, always want their cake and to eat it. Just like that cat murderer Schrodinger. They reckon all that fancy maths gets them off the hook, but it doesn't. Here's Ledswinger's hypothesis, following established models of philosophical logic:

        Anything either "fucking is" or "fucking isn't" (or maybe transiently fucking in-between, whilst not being both at the same time).

        Now, who'll second my application to join the Royal Astronomical Society?

  13. TwistUrCapBack

    “[Since] the size of the Milky Way is a million times smaller than the size of the Universe"

    This bit confuses me.

    If this were true then surely there could only be 1 million galaxies in the universe max , or am i missing something ?

  14. onefang Silver badge
    Alien

    "He also said their origin was “so puzzling” that it led him to write a paper that examined if the blazes could be linked to “advanced civilizations” living far away in the cosmos."

    So the god of the gaps has become the aliens of the gaps.

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