You’ve asked, I’ve asked. Everyone has asked: Just where do perytons come from?
Well, now Petroff et al. are able to tell you. But first – some background:
“Perytons” are millisecond-duration transients of terrestrial origin, whose frequency-swept emission mimics the dispersion of an astrophysical pulse that has propagated through tenuous cold plasma.
Damn that tenuous cold plasma. But, there you go. A peryton is essentially a very short signal detected by a radio telescope, like the Parkes Radio Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. And while we (we radio astronomers, that is) were pretty sure that they were generated on earth, we weren’t sure how. The problem with perytons though, is that they are very similar to Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs. FRBs aren’t generated on earth – so they are of great interest to radio astronomers. It doesn’t help that they may be being masked by perytons.
In their submission to the journal Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics, Petroff et al. claim to have found the source of these pesky perytons at their radio telescope:
Subsequent tests revealed that a peryton can be generated at 1.4 GHz when a microwave oven door is opened prematurely and the telescope is at an appropriate relative angle. Radio emission escaping from microwave ovens during the magnetron shut-down phase neatly explain all of the observed properties of the peryton signals.
u wot m8?
Yep. It was a someone opening the door of a microwave oven on site before the bing that was causing that blip on a screen.
I’ve never really understood the need to open a microwave door prematurely. What are you going to do with the extra 9 seconds you just “saved”? And do you realise that you could have set radio astronomy back by several years as they struggle to work out what just made all their alien invasion alarms go off? No. No, you don’t, because you only think of yourself, don’t you?
Anyway. Whatever, because they’ve sorted it. I wonder who came up with the premature opening of microwave doors hypothesis? Can you imagine being in that meeting?
E.Petroff (for it is she): So, what could be causing these perytons, then?
Scientist 1: Aliens.
Scientist 2: Aliens.
Scientist 3: (eating recently warmed up braai leftovers): No idea, mate.
Anyway – there is a serious side to all of this. Now that they have had a good look at the microwave oven-generated perytons, they have worked out that one of their FRBs – FRB010724, to be exact – wasn’t caused by anyone in their kitchen and did actually come from way out there in outer space. And that’s quite exciting.
UPDATE: And here’s how they discovered this:
Perytons happen at lunchtime (pink). FRBs happen all the time (blue). pic.twitter.com/b2wHdjwM8Q
— Emily Petroff (@ebpetroff) May 5, 2015
Brilliant. (And am I the only one who sees the middle finger in that graph?)