Radiowaves, thinking, listening…


Duncan Lorimer wasn’t looking for an eruption of radio waves from another galaxy. He and his student David Narkevic were mining old data from Australia’s Parkes Radio Telescope for oddly behaving pulsars, the rapidly spinning cores of dead massive stars. Instead, they found a strange burst of radio noise recorded in 2001 that appeared to originate well beyond one of the satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way.

The signal was so intense that it briefly overwhelmed the telescope. “It took me a while to come to terms with it”, says Lorimer, an astrophysicist at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “I knew it was unusual, but I just wasn’t able to grasp the whole gravity of the situation”. In 2007, Lorimer wrote in Science that the burst “represents an entirely new phenomenon”.

Just one signal was a curiosity. But in 2011, astronomer Evan Keane, who was at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Manchester, England, reported a second one, also in archival data from Parkes.

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Then in 2013, a team led by Dan Thornton, another Jodrell Bank astrophysicist, snagged four more in archival data from 2011 and 2012. The bursts came from points all around the sky (SN: 7/27/13, p. 8). Each one blasted out radio waves: electromagnetic waves with much lower frequencies than infrared and visible light. Named fast radio bursts, or FRBs, the observations had a few things in common: They were bright, they were brief, and they seemed to be coming from very far away. (1)

What is “natural”?
What is “artificial”?

Are the signals we emmit “natural”?
Would they be confused with “pulsars”?

Your definitions rule your world.
Your definitions define (literally) what you see and hear.
Stop thinking.
And you will see the unseen…

Everything you hear, you have already thought of…

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