back to article First low-frequency fast radio burst to grace our skies detected at last

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, a super-duper radio telescope, has detected the first low-frequency fast radio burst, a class of rare extragalactic emissions of an unknown origin. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) were first spotted over ten years ago. Since 2007, there have been around 30 confirmed sightings. On …

  1. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Uh, am I the only one

    580 MHz is the sort of frequency that might be used for an interplanetary radar.

    Low frequency, far away from the hydrogen band and a quiet area of the spectrum.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Uh, am I the only one

      An interesting radar. Have you considered how weak the return signal would be?

      Plus, by the time it got back, the original radar would probably have been replaced by a newer model.

      1. Mike Shepherd
        Meh

        Re: Uh, am I the only one

        An interesting radar. Have you considered how weak the return signal would be?

        Srong enough that it was used from Earth in the 1960s to measure the rotation rates of Mercury and of Venus. See, for example, here, which describes the use of radar at 430MHz.

        Plus, by the time it got back, the original radar would probably have been replaced by a newer model.

        No, the signal returns in a few minutes.

        Interplanetary: (adjective) between planets.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Uh, am I the only one

          "Srong enough that it was used from Earth in the 1960s to measure the rotation rates of Mercury and of Venus"

          But we're detecting it at light years, which would imply a signal strong enough to be used at interstellar distance. There would be no point in using so much power for merely interplanetary radar within one stellar system. If a signal like this can be detected at 3 million ly, using it to measure the rotation rate of a nearby planet would seem slight overkill.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Uh, am I the only one

            >But we're detecting it at light years, which would imply a signal strong enough to be used at interstellar distance.

            No. Detection range relates to the inverse square law, while radar range relates to the square of that, or range ^-4 (also known as the radar distance law).

          2. Bill Gray

            Re: Uh, am I the only one

            "But we're detecting it at light years, which would imply a signal strong enough to be used at interstellar distance."

            We're detecting _echoes_ from Mercury at interplanetary distances. Big difference. Radar detection drops as the _fourth power_ of distance; move an object ten times further away, and it collects 1/100 as many radar photons, and then you lose another factor of 100 on the way back. (Which is why almost all radar distance/range rate measurements are done on near-earth objects, only a few times further away than the moon; it takes a _big_ object for such measurements to work over longer distances, and _huge_ amounts of power.)

            This is also why the folks tracking artificial satellites use radar for low-earth objects and optical observations for objects in higher orbits. At least for publicly released data, the US military satellite surveillance folks can track objects only a few centimeters across in low-earth orbit, about 350 km away. But an object orbiting as far away as the moon would have to be a few tens of kilometers across to return a similar signal.

            If you were on a background star when the big interplanetary radars pinged (for example) Mercury, I _think_ you would get a series of pulses. You'd only see it once, though; the next time we pinged Mercury, it would have moved and some other aliens would get the signal.

          3. Johndoe888

            Re: Uh, am I the only one

            Re-verify our range to target... one ping only.

    2. Sceptic Tank

      Re: Uh, am I the only one

      So now they know we're out here? And they'll be coming here to steal our water and eat our rats.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Uh, am I the only one

        I'm pretty safe then as they will starve in Alberta then, poor Diana.

        https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rat-control-in-alberta/

    3. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Uh, am I the only one

      And to only last 2ms and never be repeated over decades, it's the universe's most inefficient radar.

      These things are literally blips, probably caused by the little "spikes" that you see poking out of any non-spherical object (because it's spinning ridiculously fast), literally a beam shooting out, at random, powerful enough to reach across the cosmos (but not back in any vaguely sensible time!).

      You know when you have those "two spheres meeting" graphics that look like an hourglass (because of gravity) and around the middle you have a beam at right angles just shooting out? It's that kind of thing. Something spinning stupendously vast, with a tiny narrow beam coming out of it, which only ever skirts us once by sheer chance and could spin for a billion years without actually pointing out exact way again (the angular arc required to hit Earth from that distance is incredibly tiny).

      This is why they are rare, fleeting, impossible to predict, rarely repeat, and yet intense enough to notice when you go looking for them in the data.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Uh, am I the only one

        >And to only last 2ms and never be repeated over decades, it's the universe's most inefficient radar.

        To the contrary, were it a radar it would be very, very efficient since it would be a pencil thin beam striking mainly the targets they are looking for with no side lobes. Also, if you use cognitive radio technologies you would not expect to see this blip on the same frequency for a long time.

        Also if the signal originated from a pulsar spinning stupendously fast we would see a pulse train and a distinct power distribution curve very different from what is shown here. And even radio amateurs using cheap equipment can detect pulsars. If the beam hits you once it will hit you again simply because the gyroscopic effect of a huge mass rotating thousands of RPMs would be too enormous to precess quickly.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Uh, am I the only one

        "rare, fleeting, impossible to predict, rarely repeat, and yet intense enough to notice when you go looking for them in the data."

        Just to point out, when you pass two frequencies through a non-linear situation, perhaps magnetic or gravitational lensing, you get the 'heterodyne' effect, i.e. 'beat frequencies', the sum/difference of the originals.

        It could be we're getting bursts of THOSE. [added: the difference in thermal energy between 2 stars, for example, might end up as ~500Mhz]

        As much as I'd like it to be an alien civilization using radio for communications, it's so ineffective across vast distances of space that an alien race capable of coming here OR even communicating with us would be using something a lot faster, maybe even a method based on quantum entanglement.

    4. Annihilator
      Holmes

      Re: Uh, am I the only one

      It’s the observed frequency we’re seeing though, we have to correct for redshift (something that is hard to do given we don’t know the source).

      If we assume it’s intergalactic in origin, redshift of z=3 isn’t unreasonable, meaning it was at least 2.4GHz at source - so maybe an intergalactic wifi signal :-D

    5. Eltonga
      Holmes

      Re: Uh, am I the only one

      a quiet area of the spectrum.

      That might be for us, and right now. Who can know how cluttered that part of the spectrum is in the origin point, moreover if you assume there is a civilization advanced enough to be interested in interplanetary radio? Also, there is the hidden assumptions that this "beings" have the same kind of senses as we have. It could well be that they are a species that communicate through RF emitting and receiving organs and well, the space around them could be really, really noisy in the RF bands...

    6. ravenviz
      Alien

      Re: Uh, am I the only one

      Better get the cat food in

      \°m°/

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pedantry

    I know this is pedantry but there is a system for naming electromagnetic waves, and 580MHz is in the UHF or decimetre band, both of which are less misleading than "low frequency".

    1. Graham Dawson

      Re: Pedantry

      That's only the definition for frequences used in radio transmission, as defined by the ITU, which ends below infrared light. In comparison to the entire electromagnetic spectrum they're a low frequency wave. Given that astronomy routinely deals with EM from infrared to gamma and beyond, it makes more sense that they'd define frequencies according to their needs, rather than the needs of terrestrial radio transmission standards.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Pedantry

        But but but... The needs of the many (ITU) outweigh the needs of the few (Radio astronomers).

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
          Joke

          @Wellyboot Re: Pedantry

          Ludicrous High Frequency?

        2. Wellyboot Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Pedantry

          Ok, next time I'll remember to put the joke icon.

          1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Pedantry

            well, at least [current # upvotes] of us got it the first time...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pedantry

        >That's only the definition for frequences used in radio transmission, as defined by the ITU

        That is both excessive and superfluous all the time the title is Fast Radio Burst. It is clear we are far from gamma rays. The real question is high or low within the radio bands and as it was pointed out above UHF is a perfectly good and more precise term than "low."

        Also, the ITU regulates radio astronomy bands, defining what bands are protected where you are not allowed to operate a transmitter, even outside protected radio areas.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pedantry

          "as it was pointed out above UHF is a perfectly good and more precise term than "low."

          It's about time those terms get redefined. Dealing in today's frequency bands, it's highly confusing to call a frequency as low as 300MHz "ultra-high".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Pedantry

            >It's about time those terms get redefined.

            Why? What we had before, such as Ku band, was a lot more confusing.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. W@ldo

      Re: Pedantry

      Thanks for pointing that out--I was ready to do the same. LF is a specific range 30kHz-300kHz. Hardly a scientific writing if they consider clearly UHF as LF. Funny how some post without understanding the frequency structure of radio waves.

      1. Graham Dawson

        Re: Pedantry @W@ldo

        That's low frequency as defined by the ITU, for terrestrial radio transmissions, which specifies frequency definitions for a very narrow band of the full EM spectrum. In astronomy, everything with a longer wavelength than infrared light is low frequency EM.

    3. Col_Panek

      Re: Pedantry

      In the USA we call that TV channels 33 & 34.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Pedantry

        In the USA we call that TV channels 33 & 34.

        Anyone checked with the FCC? Has Ajit Pai done a deal with some alien TV outfit and sold a chunk of spectrum. May be that was a test signal

  3. Prosthetic Conscience

    Fatline squirts warning us about the Ousters?

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Holmes

      Fatline Squirts-

      Usually accompanied by Low Frequency Bursts.- and gaseous clouds...

      Is that a peg on your nose, Holmes?

  4. Twanky
    Mushroom

    People of Earth...

    ...your attention, please. This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system. And regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

  5. monty75

    I'm not saying it's aliens ... but it's aliens.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's an Alien flicking a light switch on and off really quickly just to mess with us.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Nah, it's a pan-galactic numbers station.

  7. Archivist

    It's obvious..

    580MHz is around UHF TV channel 34, so my best guess is that it's a C4 commercial break ;-)

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: It's obvious..

      ...it's a C4 commercial break

      It's 2 milliseconds long... It's a blipvert! Don't decode that signal!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's obvious..

      Stuff to make your tentacles sleek and glossy so they appeal to at least 13 of the other 36 genders? Or boring surface transporters photographed in moody lighting driven by high-pheromone-emitting potential brood mothers?

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: It's obvious..

        Oooh! Your glossy tentacular sleekness makes our ectodermic protrusions quiver in anticipation.

        It's Friday again, we shall ingest saccaromycially modified liquids while exchanging fluids.

        1. decoherence

          Re: It's obvious..

          My cloaca in engorged! Wanna preen?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's obvious..

        >Stuff to make your tentacles sleek and glossy so they appeal to at least 13 of the other 36 genders?

        Aliens may have landed in New Mexico but now it is clear they quickly moved to California.

      3. Pedigree-Pete
        Joke

        @ Voyna i Mor

        Your post suggests you should spend less time with amanfrommars1...PP

  8. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Not actually "580 MHz", but "as low as 580 MHz"

    Covers a chunk of spectrum. Here's a link to the plot (PDF) that linked from the linked item.

    http://chime-experiment.ca/figures/chimefrb_1st_event.pdf

    Not exactly a Wow! signal.

  9. ElNumbre
    Thumb Up

    Trekking across the Universe

    Definitely a warp core signature.

  10. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ
    Alien

    May I Be.....

    May I be the first to welcome our new radio wave zapping overlords......

  11. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    well, that's one

    interstellar transporter failure.

    Glor@z~rjk unfortunately was reassembled minus whit's Cr%~~*julk, resulting in instantaneous vaporization. Sadly, there will be no viewing and the funeral will be held on the plant Mrrrrngaga on Glubar 15th of Rndaakr next orbit.

  12. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Alien

    Alien IoT?

    This could be some Alien lifeforms IoT security camera hijacked by .... well, Aliens?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's probably that Spanish guy you hear on 80m. Forget moon-bounce, this is distant-solar-system-bounce :-)

  14. Androgynous Cow Herd

    A fire of unknown origin

    Took my baby away

  15. Fungus Bob Silver badge
    Boffin

    It's.....

    ......a cosmic fart squeezed through a magnetic sphincter

  16. Martin Budden Bronze badge

    Remember FMBs?

    They turned out to be someone heating up their lunch and opening the microwave door while it was still on.

    This is probably something similarly mundane.

  17. anoco

    AT&T Antares

    How about a snooping attempt? All your new cell phones are belong to us?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blip...................

    Or just radically different time scales.

  19. sean.fr

    does fast mean brief or short?

    It said fast. Fast given the speed limit would have been interesting. But just a short snippet of unidentified noise, less so You can image something transiting the signal/noise and bending or reflecting it. If you could identify everything in the sky it would be surprising. I can not identify everything I find on the floor in my house...

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. IrwinBusk

    Entertaining...

    It will be decoded as the alien equivalent of "I Love Lucy".

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    580MHz

    Most of the Fast Radio Bursts have been seen above 1GHz, but they all have very high dispersion measures, so the 'blip' is smeared over a large range of frequencies ( proporiontal to 1/freq**2) and it is harder to detect at lower frequency.

    BTW the dispersion measures seen are much higher than we expect for our galaxy.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Telescope website

    https://chime-experiment.ca/ -- odd-looking thing.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Random

    710.4 MHz is exactly 1/2 of the hydrogen band.

    So also a good SETI target for a similar reason and thanks to the research mentioned we have another place to look.

    Might yet put my cooled SDR to good use.

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