The message is coming from across the universe...but what does it mean?
Imagine all the FM radios in the world agreed to play the same song at exactly the same time. Something really loud and rhythmic – something like Queen’s We Will Rock You.
All of that sound would travel up into the atmosphere, into space…and beyond. The regular rhythm, the beat of the song, would expand outwards into the universe.
And that is exactly what some scientists think is happening.
Except that the music – or the rhythm – isn’t coming from Planet Earth. It’s coming towards Planet Earth from somewhere else in the universe.
It was back in 2001 that some of the world’s most powerful telescopes first picked up a radio burst coming at us from across the vast emptiness of space. The radio bursts lasted no longer than a second. But they erupted through the sky with as much energy as released by the Sun in a whole month.
In space, there are all sorts of sounds. Stars and comets clash, planets implode into black holes… But what’s strange about these radio bursts is that they fit a definite pattern. A regular beat – like a piece of music.
Which has left scientists with a terrifying question.
And that question isn’t what is making these radio bursts, but who.
Since 2001, the radio bursts have been detected a further 10 times and scientists have called them the FRBs, or Fast Radio Bursts.
The most recent FRB was picked up in 2014 by the Parkes Telescope in new South Wales, Australia. But scientists are no closer to an explanation the phenomena then they were 14 years ago.
What’s certain is that the arrival of the radiowaves in each burst is always separated by a time delay that is multiple of the number 187.5. And there’s no known natural process that can explain how.
In fact, scientists have worked out that there’s only a five in 10,000 chance the pattern is natural or a coincidence.
So it seems the waves are being sent deliberately. But why? From where? And by whom?
One theory is that the telescopes are picking up radiowaves from human technology.
Could an unmapped spy satellite perhaps be sending messages to an unknown recipient and dressing them up as code from outer space?
It’s a possibility, no matter how much it sounds like something out of a Bond film.
But it’s a vague one.
The bursts seem to be coming from somewhere billions of light years from Earth. And it’s not known how any known spy organization could fake that. What’s more, because of their density, scientists can tell the approximate size of the place the bursts are coming from.
It’s somewhere perhaps a few hundred kilometers across – somewhere like a planet.
Is it a friendly hello? A statement of aggression? A warning? What are they drawing our attention to?
Mathematicians, scientists and even philosophers have pondered the question of 187.5. Why 187.5?
What does the number mean? What does it signify?
Frustratingly, no answer has been found. All we can do, all humanity can do, is wait for an answer, wait for more messages…
And pray that those messages bring good news.
Because if they bring bad news, well, the possibilities are too frightening to think about…
So what would happen if 187.5 was a precursor to aliens landing on Earth? Well, the United Nations has a protocol in place and would act on behalf of the world’s governments.
Any object moving towards Earth would be picked up by our satellite systems. UN officials would need to establish the object was an alien craft, rather than a comet, meteor or other natural phenomena before taking action.
If it was alien, the next step would be to establish contact before the craft landed.
Should the aliens communicate from their ship first, the world’s leading mathematicians, scientists and linguists would do their best to decipher the message. That message could come in any form, but most probably in an unknown alien language or as numbers or mathematical sequence.
If the aliens are able to communicate in a language spoken here on Earth, it would mean they’ve been observing us. And that could spell trouble.
If, on the other hand, we were the first to send a message to the approaching craft, we would do so in each of the most widely-spoken languages of the world simultaneously.
While this is going on, the world’s armies and military forces would be preparing for the worst possible outcome – just in case.
And our intelligence agencies would be trying to listen in on the aliens’ communications with each other.
Meanwhile, cyber experts would hope to work out what it is the aliens really wanted by tuning into their broadcast dishes and internal communication systems.
Our strategy, however, will be one of peace. Because if aliens have crossed space to visit us, they’re very likely to have access to sophistocated technology – and possibly to weaponry – that far surpasses our own.