Are alien civilisations out there, sending us signals? If they are, it seems we can scratch one candidate off the list of possibilities: the previously mysterious ‘perytons’, strange radio bursts that have been recorded at a few radio telescopes around the globe. Though perytons have always been shrouded in doubt: they’re named after a mythological creature that casts the shadow of a human, appearing as something it is not – a reference to the way in which perytons seemed very much like ‘Fast Radio Bursts’, except FRBs appear to come from deep space, while perytons were likely to come from an Earthly source.
Earlier this month, however, a paper was published which seems to have solved the peryton mystery. Rather than an advanced alien civilisation communicating through time and space, the radio bursts appear to be coming from…..drumroll….kitchen microwaves:
There have been dozens of reported perytons, some dating back to the 1990s, and theories about the signals’ origin included ball lightning, aircraft, and components of the telescopes themselves.
…[Emily Petroff of Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology] and her colleagues discovered the source of perytons after they installed a real-time radio interference monitor at the Parkes telescope. In January, the telescope detected three of the signals – and the interference monitor picked up three simultaneous interference signatures. The team recognized the interloping frequencies as possibly belonging to a microwave oven.
When Petroff and her colleagues tested their hypothesis, they found they could create perytons on demand simply by opening the oven door before the timer had dinged.