2. Hearing Voices

Test scans engaged

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Letting the computer meander around the universe for a while as the tests run their course. Here’s an eerie pulsar it latched onto.

This has got to be a mistake

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

While the computer was performing its random test scans with the Array, it picked up the string “30CD” in the RXJ1242-11 galaxy. Aside from being a four letter string, this is also Unicode for the Japanese character “ネ”. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Japanese transmitting signals 650M light years away from Earth, so I’m going assume this is probably a glitch in the software—and not the biggest news, ever, in the history of life the universe and everything.

(wow?)

RXJ1242-11

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I can’t stop thinking about the signal I picked up. The Array has been scanning the origin for hours, but so far it hasn’t found anything more than the usual static. Just one tiny syllable uttered from millions of light years away (if it is authentic, which I sincerely doubt). But it’s impossible not to think about.

I read a bit about “ネ” on the Internet, (pronounced “ne”) and the Japanese often use that sound to ask for confirmation on something. Kind of like “don’t you think?” or “right?” in English.

It’s as if the universe is asking me for an answer, and there is no obvious question. It just wants a “yes”… or a “no”.  Dear universe, I wouldn’t know how to respond if I could.

Fettered with what ifs

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It’s funny, my first night without the disturbing noise from the Array, and I haven’t even thought about sleep. I’m fettered with what ifs. But no matter how much I want it, all I see is zeroes on the screen.

Oh boy

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I’m trying very hard to keep myself calm and reasonable. A while ago I intercepted a message while scanning the location of the previous signal. The following message has absolutely no business coming from where it came from. The transmission originated in a galaxy called RXJ1242-11, but given the unbelievably hostile environment this nook of the universe is known for (it’s home to a star-swallowing, supermassive black hole), it’s one of the last places I’d realistically expect to find life. Much less, life speaking English. So, unless this is some highly intelligent alien life form broadcasting in our language just for fun, I am compelled to believe this is a very, very, very elaborate hoax. But how it could possibly be done is far beyond my imagination.

Nevertheless, I am posting this message in raw form for posterity. It’s a little garbled, but fairly easy to fill in the gaps. —WR


04DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″


00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000キ ship’s LMO has suff.r.d a viol.nt dissociativ. id.ntity disord.r .v.nt that has lケft us without his assistanc. (alon. with thロ only survival pod) somロwh.r. in th. 200+ M..apars.cs rヌ.ion. Althou.h w. hav. full pow.r, lif. support, coms, and suppliキs, w. hav. no jump assistanc. at this distancン. Wス hav. no navi.ational data. If you can rン00000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

Sniffing packets

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I suspect the real source of the previous two transmissions is probably a prankster/hacker (instead of an English speaking alien broadcasting 650 million LY from Earth). So, I have installed tcpdump on my network while the Array continues to scan RXJ1242-11. I checked the server logs and wasn’t able to find any evidence of an illegal login, but a smart hacker (or a dumb hacker with tools written by smart hackers) can easily cover their tracks. With the packet sniffer in place, I’ll have a copy of any new activity on the wire, and if the Array intercepts another signal, I can scan the dump file for suspicious packets on or around the time of the transmission.

I literally have not left my desk for the last 24 hours. It’s time to clean up all these dishes and take Buzz for a walk.

Emperor penguins

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

emperorpenguins Taking a break while the Array looks for another “transmission.”

It’s a really nice day, somewhere in the mid-30’s. We are nearing the summer equinox here (December 21st), on which we’ll have a full 24 hours of sunlight.

It’s a lot harder to get close to the penguins when Buzz is around, so after our walk I left him on Mt. Buzz and ventured out alone. I often caught myself staring at the Array down in the valley, at the twenty shiny metallic dishes fixed on a whisper, a zillion miles away. Then I snapped this photo, and forgot about everything for a little while.

Same time, same channel

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Here we go again, two days after the second message. I’m scanning the tcpdump log now for unusual activity on the network around the time of the transmission.

06DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000アll COMS: Th.r. is キn unknown Sup.rmネs00000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

If you’re looking closely, you’ll notice the time stamp is exactly the same (down to the second) as the previous transmission. And, although I didn’t post the raw data, the initial “ネ” message on December 3rd arrived at precisely 18:57:09 NZST as well. Interesting, but I’m postponing any further analysis of this or the other two messages until I can weed out the possibility of a hoax.

Cutting the cord

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I haven’t found anything in the tcpdump file that would lead me to believe that these transmissions are the result of a network hack. However, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a Trojan. A virus could have been installed on the controller months ago and quietly be injecting fake data into the Array stream.

To test this, I will completely disconnect the Array from the controller and manually operate it from the ARC terminal outside. There’s no shelter out there, so I’m in for a chilly day.

But first, coffee, and a microwave doughnut.

Gimmie Shelter

Monday, December 7th, 2009

DishSnapped this picture of one of the dishes while the ARC terminal was spinning up.

I’ve disconnected everything, manually input the coordinates into the ARC, and I’m ready to start scanning the universe by hand. This is about as raw as this kind of science gets. No auto-scan, no software interpreter—just one man at the controls looking for blips and spikes.

Got a giant thermos filled with hot Java, my faithful Husky, Buzz, and the Rolling Stone’s “Let It Bleed” on the iPod. Whether I find anything or not, it’s going to be a good day.

18:57:09

Monday, December 7th, 2009

scatter plot nothing

…and not so much as a whisper from the Array. The sun went down for about 30 seconds a little while ago and I believe that’s my cue to sleep. I’m going to switch to my headset and blinders and sleep out under the stars. I haven’t seen them since I left the States, but I’m getting used to the way they sound.

Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter,
And there’s not a friend to help you through.
Tryin’ to stop the waves behind your eyeballs,
Drop your reds, drop your greens and blues.

“Sweet Virginia,” The Rolling Stones

Seals on the wind

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Woke up to the sound of seals this morning, which inspired a bizarre dream in which all the dishes in the Array were giant elephant seal heads. The heads remained quiet and still until, suddenly, they started barking and warbling like crazy. Moments later, they stopped and closed their eyes. In my hands I found an old cassette recorder which had been recording the entire event. I took the cassette tape and fed it to another elephant seal who had a keyboard for a face. He chewed the tape up in his big, sloppy mouth, sat quietly for a minute, then burped up a crumpled, wet, color printout.

Picking up the paper, I  flattened it out to reveal a picture of an alien constellation, the brightest stars forming a giant, silvery “ネ”.

Somebody analyze that one for me.

I give up

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

ARC Terminal Controller
ARC Node

No transmissions after the second day at the ARC. The more I think about it, the more I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I’m out in the middle of Antarctica, in the freezing cold, trying to lasso an alien signal 650 million light years away… in English. This is ridiculous. There’s nothing out there but pulsars, black holes, and supernovas. I’m going follow the rope back to the station and Fdisk the server to kill whatever Trojan or virus has been injecting these messages into the stream, then get back to work.

Mayonnaise

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

When I was growing up, whenever my father made a mistake, instead of shouting curses, he’d say “mayonnaise” (MAY-YOO-NAISE). I never understood why he said this—he was a little strange. Nevertheless, I heard it so much as a child, that it’s the first thing out of my mouth when I screw up. And I just said it.

Here’s a tip for all you burgeoning astronomers: when you’re entering your Right Ascension and Declination, be sure to input them in the correct order. Because when you do it backwards, you get to freeze your ass off repeating a stupid 2-day experiment in the Antarctic desert.

Mood: potato salad

Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

radio_labThese are, of course, the famous first words ever heard broadcast on radio waves, transmitted by Canadian scientist, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden on December 23rd, 1900.

No one answered.

History did not record whether it was actually snowing at Mr. Thiessen’s location, but I can tell you that it’s snowing like hell in Antarctica, and like Mr. Thiessen, I am unable to respond to the transmission I just received.

It is now without a doubt that these alien signals are undeniably, unequivocally, absolutely authentic.

Today, at 18:57:09 NZST, December 10, 2009, I received another transmission from RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″ on a frequency of 372097.2 Hz.  I also received a repeat of another previously received signal also at 18:57:09 NZST, but slightly out of phase with the new transmission. Both signals have been tested with a Gaussian curve-fit to rule out terrestrial interference. I will immediately return to Station151, reconnect the computer systems to the Array, and begin work on fully decoding these messages. The transmissions are as follows. First the new transmission, followed by the transmission initially received on 04 Dec 2009, in complete form, and the spectral analysis of each phase:

10DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 000舞ll COMS: We .ppe.r to be コ s.fe dist.nce from the horizon. Gr田vit.tion .nd tid.l forces negテtive. Ple.se .dvise .nyw.y[Communic.tion sent: 0不1テ5 Shinkラi M.ru 5]坂00 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

10DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00All COMS: This is Maxim Akihiko Broussad, Communications Satラllit. Continuanc. Mana.in. Projエct Offic.r L2 onboard thエ Shinkai Maru 5. Thキ ship’s LMO has suff.r.d a viol.nt dissociativ. id.ntity disord.r .v.nt that has lケft us without his assistanc. (alon. with thロ only survival pod) somロwh.r. in th. 200+ M..apars.cs rヌ.ion. Althou.h w. hav. full pow.r, lif. support, coms, and suppliキs, w. hav. no jump assistanc. at this distancン. Wス hav. no navi.ational data. If you can rンad us, pl.as. advisラ.[Communication sネnt: 0.D.C218. Shinkai Maru 5]0 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

Spectral Analysis

I feel like I should say something profound, but my heart is pounding and I am at a loss.

Floodgates

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Back at 151 now. I’ve re-established communication between the Array and the server and continued to scan the source. At 18:57:09 I received three additional transmissions: two duplicates of previous transmissions, and a new message, which is timestamped December 1st, 2185. The entire message is as follows: “GET BURST, SPEGG!”. I have no idea what this could mean.

I have received a total of 4 messages now, not including the original “ネ” message, which appears to be garbage data. I’ve not yet compared the spectral analysis of the original “ネ” message to any of the others.

I’ve created a new page which contains all messages received thus far, decoded and presented in the most complete form possible. This page can be found here: Transmissions.

Overview
Three of the four messages are dated 176 years in the future, and the other is truncated. Whether these dates are authentic or not, I do not know. However, judging by the content, it appears the transmissions are mostly S.O.S. calls from a pilot named Maxim Akihiko Broussad, who is most likely not alien, but an Earth born human, lost somewhere in space . The pilot refers to his spacecraft as the “Shinkai Maru 5.” A quick internet search yields that “shinkai” means “deep sea” in Japanese, and is a common name for that country’s sailing vessels. Given this, and the fact that the pilot is reporting a supermassive black hole in his proximity, lends more weight to the authenticity of the timestamp accompanying the messages, and may (theoretically) provide a vehicle for the message to travel backward through time, though that kind of science is far out of my league.

Broussad also refers to something called an “LMO” aboard his ship which suffered some kind of violent mental collapse, and may have been the reason for his current predicament. I’m guessing an LMO is some kind of artificial life form, probably a robot or cybernetic organism of some kind.

This is all the information I have for now. Buzz is growling at me, which reminds me that I have not fed him (or myself) for far too long. Also, I’ve punched the snooze button on my biological clock more times than I can count, and my eyes feel like flaming grapefruits. Must eat something and sleep as soon as possible. More tomorrow.

Two new messages

Saturday, December 12th, 2009
Today at 18:57:09 NZST I received two new messages, along with four more repeats. The first seems to be another S.O.S., and the second, a warning about the “LMO” mentioned in the last transmission. The second message is badly damaged and contains an unusual amount of garbage data. Not sure why, but I’ve included a snippet of it in this post (there’s a lot more). As usual I’ve posted cleaned up versions of these two messages to the transmissions page.

12DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 000プ止l COMS: This is Mアxim アキヒコBro.ssad aboard the Shinka.Maru 5 request.ng emergency o.en coタmu.ication and ナavigaハノonal inform..ion from any available traffic or s.ations please. Still ワiting reply. Hellオ out there?「Comムnication sent: 02.E.2185 Shink.i Ma.u 5」000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

12DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″

00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 000nformed that the エルMO has suffered a violent disソciative identity disorデr event アンd is responsiblエ for the subsequent マrooning of host vessel in unkノwn region of deep space without jump assisタnce. May be シeking assistance from 000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000

Example of the garbage data:

´€þû\Ó»·Ú¤½=e¤;?4;èsµÛ®ôïe›ö¿Û~“<5¾ßü›R6‘¸48ÙúMãwu-Ð!¤‹yØâ4æ-ÝùÛ?3ü#ÚH H$è@üÙüÆ¢Cl ˆy;¤»Ë¿;ùi)‹vÉ. ’4qt1¬¦].h¤‡    ƒÀƒî{$7ûûþšmÇÓaªK    öûNŽÝ>ÿ

It’s an image

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

The “garbage data” is a badly corrupted image.

What the hell is this?

Corrupted Image

Cleaned up the image, but not perfect

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

I ran the image data through a software package we use for filtering noise out of signals and managed to remove the static. The process warped the image, but at least it’s clearer.

Staring at this thing makes my skin crawl.

Filtered

The partial message that accompanied the image is as follows: informed that the LMO has suffered a violent dissociative identity disorder event and is responsible for the subsequent marooning of host vessel in unknown region of deep space without jump assistance. May be seeking assistance from

I’m guessing the thing in the picture is the so called “LMO”. Whatever it is, it’s ugly, and apparently not in a good mood.

Trouble come down

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

I just received a call from Telders. It’s been two weeks since he and his team completed work on the station and left me here for a six month contract to initialize and test the Array. Station151 is a privately owned astronomical radio observatory, and once I’ve completed my contract, the organization which owns the station plans to sell time on the Array to whomever is willing to pay what will probably be a fairly hefty price. Apparently, one of those clients may be a team of American astrophysicists currently in residence at McMurdo station on Ross Island. And Telders just called to let me know they’d be dropping by on Wednesday to evaluate the Array and have a look at the data I’ve collected so far. Wonderful.

I conveniently forgot to mention to Telders that I’ve done almost no real work in the last two weeks, due to the fact that I’ve been tracking what appears to be a radio transmission from a lost astronaut, some 176 years in the future, broadcasting distress signals from a distance of 200+ megaparsecs somewhere near a supermassive black hole. Oh, and that the pilot seems rather agitated that his cyborg or robot companion went mental, sabotaged the ship, blasted off in an escape pod, and is probably eager to do violence to whomever it encounters.

And I have no intention to tell him, or anyone else any of this any time soon. I’ve got a serious amount of data to forge before our friends arrive.

TRANSGENIC HATCHERY FILTH

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

A new transmission dropped today, which accompanied repeats of 5 of the last 6 transmissions. Here it is (already scrubbed):

13DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″
SPEGG, IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU ARE ONE DEAD FISHHEAD, YOU SORRY PIECE OF TRANSGENIC HATCHERY FILTH! I HOPE YOU BURST OUT THERE! [Communication sent: 02DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Transgenic hatchery filth? I Googled “transgenic” and apparently it has something to do with genetically modified organisms. Like, you know those GloFish that were sold as pets a few years ago? Something like that. Is this SPEGG some kind of pissed off, futuristic GloFish?

THF

Repeaters

Monday, December 14th, 2009

For the last week I’ve been reporting that some messages are repeating, often with less garbage data. This may mean something. So far, the number of repetitions over time have increased in this fashion: 1, 2, 4, 5.

Contact

Monday, December 14th, 2009
200px-Arecibo_message.svg

Arecibo Message

Ever since I received the first transmission, I’ve been thinking more and more about a possible reply. Firing radio waves into space is certainly something mankind has been inadvertently doing since the invention of radio. And occasionally on purpose. On November 16, 1974 when the so-called “Arecibo message” was broadcast from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to globular star cluster Messier 13, many doomsayers warned that the transmission would herald an alien invasion.

I would be remiss if I did not consider the possible consequences of sending a high powered reply back to the origin of these transmissions. Especially given the potential they have to send (at least) radio frequencies through time, which isn’t entirely far-fetched (Google the word “retrocausality”). If they can do this, then perhaps they have the power to send living things backward as well. Perhaps this “distress” signal is nothing more than highly advanced tackle designed to snare intelligent life so some glowing, fish-headed, alien race can fillet us and turn our cities into fish ponds.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps and perhaps not a million infinity. What the hell. I’m going to go ahead and send it. This Friday. At 18:57:09.

Extreme prejudice

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Array received the following transmission along with 6 other repeated messages this evening, and it just hit me. The fact that the messages are repeating may not mean anything at all. I’m guessing that if the pilot is intentionally transmitting these messages backward through time, it would make more sense to transmit the signal to numerous points in time instead of one tiny moment in time on one thin frequency.

I’m also assuming that because the ship, in its current predicament, would obviously need to conserve resources, that the technology to transmit through time takes very little or no power. It is well known that broadband transmissions consume an enormous amount of energy, and that may explain the narrow frequency on which these transmissions have been arriving.

Not a lot of new information in this message, except for what appears to be a growing level of urgency. Who knew fish could be so dangerous?

14DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″
As Acting Captain of his host ship the Shinkai Maru 5, I authorize any authorities, security details, or bounty hunters to incarcerate the Transgenic Fish/Humanoid known as Spegg on sight. He is a ship deserter, as well as a violent, deranged saboteur. If capture or incarceration appear difficult, I authorize you to dissolve him with extreme prejudice. [Communication sent: 03DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Thoughts during bacon dinner

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I have mentally and morally prepared myself for Friday’s transmission, but now that I’m ready to send, I suddenly realize that have no idea what to say. And hopefully future ships are loaded with highly advanced radio sensors and are constantly scanning any and all frequencies for anything interesting. And hopefully Maxim Akihiko Broussad’s ship is one of those ships. And hopefully the humanoid fish named Spegg hasn’t screwed up all those highly advanced radio sensors along with whatever else he destroyed. And if all of that is true and good, what kind of transmission could possibly be interesting enough to capture the good captain’s attention?

Hrm… more bacon.

On a completely unrelated note, the phrase “more bacon” has a delightful ring to it.

Cycling the Array

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The Americans will arrive tomorrow morning so I am going to cycle the Array ahead of their visit. This will clear the Array’s memory so they won’t find any data related to the transmissions I’ve been receiving. I’ve also forged about two weeks of observation data (which I pilfered from NRAO’s convenient online database), so everything should appear normal and accurate. The Americans will be effectively taking over the station for about 24 hours, so I’ll be updating this journal remotely.

Once the Americans are out of my hair I will prepare a transmission to the captain of the Shinkai Maru 5. Still contemplating what to say.

This message (and 8 repeats) arrived on the Array a few minutes ago:

15DEC2009185709NZST RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″
A long night. I made an inspection of the ship, looking for damages and potential systems failures throughout. The ship is nearly 70,000 cubic meters in total and it can take quite a while to crawl every centimeter. These deep space ships are tough and equipped with redundant electronic and mechanical systems. I didn’t expect to find any problems. It’s the potential for problems that I couldn’t find that bothers me. I also inventoried the ship’s consumables and ran life support systems tests. All appear in good order. If a person enjoyed eating nutrition packs, drinking reclaimed water and breathing scrubbed air, they might be very comfortable here. I’ve opened communications to all possible channels and frequencies, searching for assistance. Without nav data, the system can’t locate our position in space. For some time, the nav system was spinning dangerously high, trying to resolve available external data against its charts. Nothing out here is familiar. One thing remains certain. We are far outside our known space. Getting help, getting back in familiar space may take time. Spegg, I hope you are having an enjoyable excursion in my survival pod.

– Maxim Akihiko Broussad, Shinkai Maru 5

[Communication sent: 04DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Next: Chapter 3. Open House