Something very strange is going on out there, in the dark void beyond our galaxy.

Image via New Scientist

Odds are, you haven't even heard of it. Mainly because the mainstream media is obsessed with celebrity divorces or the latest political nonsense. But also because the story involves a lot of technical jargon.

But this may  -- and I say 'may' -- be actual evidence of an artificial (i.e., non-natural) radio signal, one created by entities unknown for purposes we simply can't yet fathom.

But let's back up a bit, all the way to 2001.

In 2001, astronomers first discovered a phenomena they would label 'Fast Radio Bursts,' or FRBs. These FRBs were very brief, quite intense bursts of unique radio noise that seem to originate from the deep dark between galaxies.

At first, they were considered a natural oddity. Analysis of the initial data suggested the source would be a small body (probably no more than a few hundred kilometers across) that somehow managed to emit brief bursts of radio waves with an energy equivalent to a month of our Sun's total energetic output.

What could do that?

No one knew. Theories abounded.

By 2014, nine of these FRBs had been intercepted and recorded. The tenth FRB was caught live by an Australian radio telescope, and that's when the mystery got suddenly much deeper.

Analysis of this tenth signal revealed something utterly unique -- there is a clear pattern embedded in the signal itself. You can read the article I linked below for the particulars, but aspects of the signal appear to be arranged so that the delay between the first waves of the signal and the last ones occurs on precise intervals which are ALWAYS a multiple of the number 187.5.

Think about that for a moment. Yes, we've seen other celestial bodies which appear to emit cyclic radio emission. Pulsars, for instance. But the deal with pulsars is this -- they only appear to be cyclic because they're spinning. Say some kids leave a laser pointer on a merry go round, and you're at the far end of the park. You might see a flash of light every second or so, and think someone is turning the laser pointer on and off. Actually, you're only seeing the beam when it turns to point at you. It stays on all the time, and only the motion of the merry-go-round grants the beam the illusion of a cycle. There's no one on the switch in the middle of a pulsar, so to speak.

We know that now.

But the FRBs aren't spinning. Something may -- and I'm saying may again -- have designed the FRB sources so that this mathematical ratio is maintained within the signal, for anyone with the technology and brains to figure it out.

Which would a monumental discovery. We would, for the first time, know that something somewhere was shaping radio signals.

Is that the case here?

It's way too soon to tell. People thought the first pulsar might be an alien radio beacon too, until closer observation revealed a massive stream of radio energy spewed out of a rotating magnetic field around an exotic celestial body.

But we don't know of any body that might produce FRBs. Heck, we don't know of any physical model that might account for FRBs and their odd mathematical qualities.

But it's exciting, because it might represent the beginning of a fundamental change in the way we perceive the universe.

Who knows what else might be hidden in that brief burst of radio noise? Maybe 187.5 is just a 'Hey, look here' tag, and the real meat of the message is encoded in what might at first appear to be nothing but noise.

I would love that. And I'm glad people are digging into this, even now.

Read the New Scientist article here.