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Space signals turn out to be ready meals

One small lunch for man, one giant feast for mankind.

One small lunch for man, one giant feast for mankind.

Scientists working at the Parkes Observatory have discovered that the strange signals detected by the radio telescope are not encrypted messages from extraterrestrial life, but unencrypted messages from the kitchen microwave, telling them their lunch was done.

That’s actually only a slightly more flippant summary than the full story: the observatory is studying the still unexplained ‘fast radio bursts’, but would occasionally get another frequency – the peryton. Well, while the former is still unexplained, the latter has a pretty mundane explanation, according to the paper by Emily Petroff and her team at Parkes Observatory:

“Until now, the physical origin of the dispersion-mimicking perytons had remained a mystery. We have identified strong out-of-band emission at 2.3-2.5 GHz associated with several peryton events. Subsequent tests revealed that a peryton can be generated at 1.4 GHz when a microwave oven door is opened prematurely and the telescope is at an appropriate relative angle.”

“Radio emission escaping from microwave ovens during the magnetron shut-down phase neatly explain all of the observed properties of the peryton signals.”

In other word, excitable scientists eager to get their lunch right away were opening the microwave door on the first ‘ping’, before it had shut down its magnetron.

Fortunately, the whole field of study wasn’t jeopardized by this discovery. They found that the fast radio bursts they’re studying are clearly distinct from the false positives given off from the office microwave. This made sense, as the perytons generated from the microwave tended to be clustered around lunchtime, while regular fast radio bursts had a more random distribution.

So the research continues. Though the scientists might be better off with cold sandwiches for a while, all the same.

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