AI Finds More Space Chatter

Scientists don’t know exactly what fast radio bursts (FRBs) are. What they do know is that they come from a long way away. In fact, one that occurs regularly comes from a galaxy 3 billion light years away. They could form from neutron stars or they could be extraterrestrials phoning home. The other thing is — thanks to machine learning — we now know about a lot more of them. You can see a video from Berkeley, below. and find more technical information, raw data, and [Danielle Futselaar’s] killer project graphic seen above from at their site.

The first FRB came to the attention of [Duncan Lorimer] and [David Narkevic] in 2007 while sifting through data from 2001. These broadband bursts are hard to identify since they last a matter of milliseconds. Researchers at Berkeley trained software using previously known FRBs. They then gave the software 5 hours of recordings of activity from one part of the sky and found 72 previously unknown FRBs.

We would love to hear from ET, of course. However, it is hard to imagine that if you wanted to deliberately communicate, you’d do it in a more obvious way. Of course, maybe we are just eavesdropping on some alien star fleet’s trunked communications system. We always figure advanced civilizations will have data compression that makes data appear pretty random and we often wonder about the effect of time dilation on modulation if the source is moving rapidly relative to us.

Sadly, the most likely explanation is something more mundane like a black hole. Some FRBs even turned out to be generated here on Earth when people opened their microwave ovens during operation. Perhaps, we are seeing an intergalactic 7-11 heating up giant burritos.

If you want to try your own hand at radio astronomy without a lot of gear, you can join Zooniverse. Or you can hack an old satellite dish.

25 thoughts on “AI Finds More Space Chatter

  1. MIB’s have already shut down solar observatories around the world ! (the New Mexico one got all the coverage because it’s CONUS). OCONUS, there were 6 – SIX !! other solar observatories “mysteriously” shut down – so something is afoot !

  2. i love the thought of the irony that FRB’s are such an efficient compression algorithm that it’s their entire history over millions of years. and we just look at them like blips in milliseconds.

  3. “However, it is hard to imagine that if you wanted to deliberately communicate, you’d do it in a more obvious way.”
    I do not know if this is a demonstration of hubris, naivete, stupidity, or a misquote. When you communicate you use the cheapest method possible. The cheapest interstellar communication is going to use the least amount of energy. Which implies both tight beam technology and shortest message possible technology. Security is of secondary concern after getting the message there, and likely to be including in the compression anyway.

    1. I think you aren’t taking that the way I meant it. If you look at the context, I mean deliberately communicate with US. (Us for emphasis, not United States). If we were on a ship and saw natives on some island and wanted to signal them, would you shine a mirror at them or would you want to want to use a 4G phone because clearly that’s way better than a 2G phone?

      We’ve done the same thing — spending a lot of thought about how to send messages that aliens would notice as messages. Now as Thompson says below, maybe if your alien life lives for 30 seconds, those millisecond bursts seem obvious to me.

      But on the plus side, I started my morning trying to decide if I’m naive, stupid, or feeling God-like, so thanks for that! I’ll let you know what I decide.

    2. And if you wanted to watch the most interesting things, you’d slow down and watch the cosmos not some fish descendents bickering on TV. Then you’d signal very slowly (very good s/n ratio) and the fast little creatures would not be able to concentrate long enough to view or decode your message.

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