Blame it on the Aliens

British biologist Jack Haldane once famously opined that “the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.”

Impressively poetic, and suitably modest. But I don’t agree, because whenever anyone notices something new about the cosmos, they have no difficulty imagining something exceptionally strange: namely, alien handiwork.

The latest example is an odd phenomenon that’s descriptively called a “fast radio burst.” FRBs are the latest celestial discovery to capture the attention of both astrophysicists and the media – and be labeled by some as the work of crafty extraterrestrials.

No one had either heard of or imagined FRBs until one was discovered by astronomer Duncan Lorimer in 2007, using data from a radio telescope in Australia. It was a brief “flash” of radio energy – about 20 times speedier than an eyeblink – coming from a mostly blank area in the southern sky. Since the flash was seen only once, many astronomers were inclined to write it off, figuring it might be some sort of instrument glitch. If you see Bigfoot only once, you can pretty much dismiss the experience. (In fact, you can always dismiss it.)

Well, it now seems the FRB was as real as the nose on your countenance. Another ten have been found. Indeed, an extrapolation of these discoveries suggests that if our radio telescopes were able to observe all the sky, all the time, they’d be picking up thousands of bursts a day.

So the big question is, what’s making these radio pings? What are they? The biggest clue comes from the fact that the bursts “whistle” – which is to say they decrease in frequency during the flash, somewhat like quickly letting out the slide on a trombone. And that’s a phenomenon —> Read More