back to article 15 'could it be aliens?' fast radio bursts observed in one night

Fast Radio Burst-hunters have suffered London Bus syndrome again: fifteen have shown up at once. A bout of sky-watching at Green Bank in West Virginia, under the auspices of the Breakthrough Initiative's Listen project, has turned up 15 pulses from repeater source FRB 121102. Boffins already knew FRB 121102 was enticing: back …

  1. mr. deadlift

    Prof Cox likes the idea it could be for propulsion across the void, icon is obvious.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Communication that required power at that level would be rather inefficient, one would think. But when we see theories about creating actual wormholes, warp drive etc. we're always told the power requirements would be ridiculous. Like maybe something with "million trillion trillion" in it :)

      Yeah, I know, 99.99999% chance it is natural and we just don't understand it. But fun to think about some alien warp driving overlords, even if they only lived in our distant past.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        There's a difference between liking an idea and believing it. I like the idea that there will be a roast duck in my oven when I return home... it doesn't mean that I believe it.

        Using 'Aliens' as a placeholder is healthy, because it doesn't colour any working theory (which currently is a weird neutron star with a massive magnetic field). It also has form: Pulsars were once known as LGMs (Little Green Men), until a better explanation was arrived at.

    2. Tom 64

      Well if it is an alien communication beacon or propulsion system, they've fucked up. I imagine they have cooked themselves with it quite nicely, along with everything else in their galaxy.

      That's the kind of engineering screw up that would make both captain Picard and his number one facepalm.

      1. Aladdin Sane

        I suggest you google 'the united federation of "hold my beer, i got this"'

      2. macjules

        "Well if it is an alien communication beacon or propulsion system, they've fucked up. I imagine they have cooked themselves with it quite nicely, along with everything else in their galaxy."

        You have obviously never been to a Hotblack Desato gig then.

  2. Zog_but_not_the_first

    But sadly...

    It's all happening a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But sadly...

      Apparently the remnants of the Empire kept building death stars over and over again, despite the rebels continually blowing them up and causing a massive explosion. Will they never learn?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But sadly...

        That's no natural satellite of a planet, visible (mainly at night) by reflected light from their sun.

        1. a_a

          Re: But sadly...

          That's no natural satellite of a planet, visible (mainly at night) by reflected light from their sun.

          underrated post

      2. Chris G

        Re: But sadly...

        @DougS, but 15 death stars in one night?

        I think the rebels are gonna win.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Chris G - 15 death stars

          We can't pinpoint the exact location of this at such a distance, who's to say it wasn't 15 death stars located at various places in a Milky Way sized galaxy, destroyed over a period of 200,000 years, that due to an amazing cosmic coincidence just happened to have their light all reach us at the same moment :)

          Or way one Super Death Star that had 15 reactors inside it, which exploded in sequence causing 15 separate flashes?

      3. not.known@this.address

        Re: But sadly...

        Dammit DougS, you've just given away the plot for Star wars Episode 9!

        (The First Order have a half-constructed Starkiller Base 2 that the Resistance think is not yet operational so they send a small group to the forest moon of NotNamedYet where they meet the incredibly cute and highly marketable cuddly StrangeNamedAliens who show then a sneaky way into the deflector shield control room just in time to save the whole Resistance fleet that has just arrived and discovered Starkiller Base 2 may not be complete but the Flippin' Big Gun is already fully functional and ready to blow up starships with no blowthrough even though it appears to use the same energy to vapourise an entire planet many magnitudes bigger than the starship...

        (Darn, forgot the first half of the film where Rey, Chewie, Luke and someone else - possibly Maz Kanata? - have to return to Jakku to rescue Finn from where Unkar Plutt has him mounted on a wall...)

        1. Tom 7

          Re: But sadly...

          @ not.known@this.address

          I read that as Episode 9 factorial. God that was depressing.

      4. macjules

        Re: But sadly...

        It's all because of this bloody planet that keeps wanting to leave the Empire. They sent their chief negotiator D'dvd Dvi|es to try and blackmail the Emperor so it has been necessary to teach the planet 'a lesson'.

        D'dvd Dvi|es: "I didn't know we had an extra moon"

        Imperial negotiator: "That's no moon"

  3. J. R. Hartley

    It's not a distress call, it's a warning.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The race is on between Trump and Kim Jung Un to see who will take credit for it and claim it is a warning for the other.

      1. Alan J. Wylie

        $ units "10 million trillion trillion joules" "tonne tnt"

        * 2.4284104e+21

        Kim Jong-un - eat your heart out.

    2. not.known@this.address

      Liberate mei?

      or Liberate tutamei ex inferis?

      (apologies for the spelling, I didn't do Latin at school)

    3. Michael Thibault

      If it were a distress call, all things considered, wouldn't you scratch your head and consider the wisdom of responding?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It would be a little like responding to a 911 (or 999 for you cross ponders) call made in 1965.

  4. Winkypop Silver badge

    Bad news travel fast!

    Yes, Trump, IS president!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bad news travel fast!

      If humans could invent a "butthurt drive" we really could explore the furthest reaches of the universe.

    2. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: Bad news travel fast!

      If only it hadn't taken them quite so long to charge up their 10 million trillion trillion joules the warning from their model of the end of the universe 3 billion years into their future might have arrived on time.

      1. AceRimmer1980

        Re: Arkintoofle Minor

        is a planet which is home to the Hingefreel race. This race attempted to build ships powered by bad news, as this has the well-known ability to travel faster than light. However, the idea was soon abandoned as the ships were unwelcome wherever they landed (or attempted to do so).

        (c) Sun-Earther Douglas 'DNA' Adams of Cambridge.

  5. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Good day

    We've been receiving complaints of interference in the 4-8 GHz range. This 30 thousand million trillion trillion watt pirate transmitter of yours doesn't seem to be licensed.

    1. AceRimmer1980

      Re: Good day

      No, it's just an American radio ham operating QRP.

  6. ratfox

    That much energy is equivalent to the total output of our sun over ten hours. What do we know requires the total output of a sun? Apart from Starkiller base?

    1. Valeyard

      a chrome tab left unclosed

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "a chrome tab left unclosed"

        You mean is some kind of Google/Microsoft interstellar telemetry feed?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Spinal Taps Amps.

      1. magickmark

        Spinal Taps Amps.

        Fuck Spinal Tap and their puny 11, mine goes up to 12!


        1. Patrician

          Re: Spinal Taps Amps.

          Bugger Spinal Tap, it was a concert by the plutonium rock band "Disaster Area"!

  7. Refugee from Windows

    CQ Contest

    They're trying to make contact but it's the FRB 121102 Contest Group. They want us to reply as we're worth 8T points for a new solar system. Unfortunately not even the Italians are able to reply this time.

    1. jphb

      Re: CQ Contest

      They'll have changed the scoring system by the time your reply reaches them

  8. G Mac

    I am Appalled and Outraged!

    After re-calibrating my units of measure system to the Reg's common sense and entirely practical system, q.v., I find that this article uses a non-standard unit of measurement! Unacceptable!

    I demand that The Register, if it is to maintain it's readers expected high standard of reporting, to immediately rectify the situation by using an approved Reg unit.

    Given we have force (the Norris) and distance (possibly the Linguine is most relevant), I suggest The Register immediately gets to work to supply both the name of the Reg unit and it's conversion rate, particularly to this thing called a 'joule', on which I am unable find any information on the Reg's standard converter, making it, the joule, a meaningless unit.


    Appalled A. Outraged

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

      What's the energy content of a "standard" English breakfast? :-)

      1. wallaby

        Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

        Its the methane output afterwards you need to measure not the breakfast itself (penalties of being a veggie - those sausages have far more potential than mere pork or beef)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the energy content of a "standard" English breakfast?

        Looking at

        we see a figure of 850 calories, which converts to about 3.6 MJ; so the 10 million trillion trillion Joules becomes about 3 trillion trillion EBf.

        However, there's no black pudding, and only one sausage, and one slice of toast; which seems a bit lighter than some EB's I've been served (and where's the tomato?).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the energy content of a "standard" English breakfast?

          If a full English has less calories than you are supposed to consume in a day, you're doing it very, very wrong.

      3. Sgt_Oddball

        Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

        I would have thought a bacon sandwich or a cup of tea (standards have already been debated and agreed upon) would have been more appropriate, no?

    2. stephanh

      Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

      It's about 7 hundred thousand trillion trillion NorrisLinguines.

    3. Stoneshop

      Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

      Addition to definitions.units:

      hamster 1|53 watt

      wales 20776980000 m^2

      footballpitch 4050.7601 m^2

      belgium 30528.33 km^2

      congo 2354031.834 km^2

      norris 100 N

      linguine 140 mm

      doubledecker 9.219 m

      brontosaurus 138.2851 m

      walnut 83776 mm^3

      egg_vol 183260 mm^3

      grapefruit 523600 mm^3

      airbag 575960 mm^3

      funbag 1712172 mm^3

      football 5796252 mm^3

      pool 2502.8677 m^3

      jub 4200 g

      eiffeltower 7000000 kg

      pepcon 2700 ton_tnt

      mythbusters_cement_mixer 0.34 ton_tnt

      tad 1.25 ml

      dash 0.625 ml

      pinch 0.3125 ml

      smidgen 0.15625 ml

      drop 0.078125 ml

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

        One unit that is also missing from the Reg Standards Converter is time*. Sticking with a conventional unit until a Reg one comes along, energy could be expressed as hamsterfortnights, with this galaxy emitting 43.816138 trillion trillion hamsterfortnights per burst.

        * lunchtime is way too variable, although that can actually be useful on occasion.

        1. zapgadget

          Re: I am Appalled and Outraged!

          * I thought lunchtime was doubly variable?

  9. Banksy

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

    ....but it's aliens!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm not saying it's aliens....

      I'm sorry but 15 isn't a prime number...

      1. eldakka

        Re: I'm not saying it's aliens....

        Ahh, but if you divide 15 by the mystical number 3, you get 5, which is a prime number!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm not saying it's aliens....

        Okay - they are somewhat innumerate aliens...

  10. Banksy


    Probably be a pulsar or something like that?

  11. Ben1892
    Black Helicopters

    Clearly a cover up "discovery" for the HAARP anomaly that's been used to create hurricanes Harvey and Irma

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It'll be kids having a rave.

    Alien kids, but kids none the less.

  13. Christoph

    It's not aliens

    They could communicate locally using far less power. They only need that huge signal if they want to communicate over distances like 3 billion light years.

    But just to say "Hello?" "Yes, I hear you" would take six billion years. Who is going to approve the budget for that? It simply does not make sense. A reply coming back after a period longer that the age of our solar system?

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: It's not aliens

      I agree, it's not aliens.

      I have a longer explanation I've given before as to why Radio Telescopes are great for science but not going to receive Alien transmissions, unless the Alien starship is nearer than the nearest star. Otherwise, we'll spot possible alien life or even their industrial pollution via spectrographic analysis. The James Webb should be a good addition for that search.

      I look forward to someone figuring out what FRBs actually are. Though we likely don't want such a generator nearby. Some sort of magnestar is my guess.

      An advanced civilisation doesn't even need FRBs for navigation. Pulsars are good for that and can even be used to navigate within our own solar system or the whole galaxy. The missing ingredient is a "starship". A generation ship is feasible but doesn't get the TV ratings.

    2. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: It's not aliens

      They don't need that much output to communicate, true. They do need that much output to blow up their enemies' stars, though.

  14. Locky

    Are we sure

    it's not just some bloke in Lancashire mowing their lawn?

  15. Notabot


    'Disaster Area' tuning up their instruments.

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: Obviously..

      "'Disaster Area' tuning up their instruments."

      At least we are located in a listening area at an appropriate distance.

  16. Lotaresco

    'could it be aliens?'

    Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What are the chances?

    I think minds immeasurably superior to ours have been scrutinizing us, and slowly and surely, drawing their plans against us.

    Stay off Horsell Common for a while......

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: What are the chances?

      The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one.

      Which, as we all know, happens 9 times out of ten.

      1. theN8

        Re: What are the chances?

        Obligatory l-space reference:

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is obviously either

    Natural and interesting,

    or Alien "warp drive" test failure, no doubt wiping out its own solar system in the process by constantly warping in and out of normal planes of existence in perpetuity bending time back around itself to repeat the test until the end of the universe.

    Given its not going anywhere it can't be a normal engine test, and at those energies I would expect their power source to deplete before this many bursts were detected.

  19. Thomas Steven 1

    Doesn't powering down active Alcubierre-White propulsion produce something akin to this

    Is it possible that a FRB could be an Alcubierre-White warp drive equipped spacecraft skipping through space/time and taking breaks every 15 minutes to make minimally destructive progress around a galaxy.

  20. arctic_haze

    Who or what had 10 million trillion trillion joules to play with, 3 billion light years away?

    A pan-galactic spammer?

    Actually I like the idea that we see starship propulsion aiming by accident towards us. But the truth will be some boring magnetic fields and hot plasma. As usual :(

  21. AdamWill


    It's never lupus, twins, or aliens.

  22. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Hawking Bacon

    Professor Hawking (and Elon Musk) seem to be the sciency showbiz equivalent of bacon: getting their soundbites on subjects they scarcely know anything about makes everything better!

  23. JJKing

    Is that like 1.2 jigawatts?

    10 million trillion trillion joules

    I wonder if they have a flux capacitor to go with that amount of energy?

    Mine's the one with the speedo set to 141.622kph.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HipHop Angle...

    It could be a new loudmouth rapper!!!

    After all, "...Mr. West showd up 'in the buildin' with his Swagger turned up to a hundred thousand trillion..."

  25. johnnyblaze

    Radio? Not so sure

    Would potentially advanced cvilisations even be using radio? It's an archaic communication method with some massive limitations. Surely they'd be using some form of quantum entanglement communication would be the order of the day - ordering a Maccie D's from the other side of the universe would be easy then.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Radio? Not so sure

      Neutrino laser would work.

      Plus any "accidental" interception would look like a big supernova etc.

      An interesting possibility is using gravitational waves (namely HFGWs) that only show up at quite high frequencies so you'd need a very sensitive detector.

      As it appears LIGO can generate as well as detect long wavelewngth GWs it might be worth launching a "GSETI" project that detects anomalous signals appearing to be mathematical such as sequences of primes in binary.

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