astronomers before the trap of interpretation

After allowing the detection of the first fast radio bursts, data from an Australian radio telescope seemed to harbor an even more exciting discovery. For four years, scientists multiplied the hypotheses.

This article is taken from the monthly Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche n°907, September 2022.

Nicknamed The Plate, the radio telescope in Parkes, Australia, had its heyday. He participated in the retransmission of the first steps on the Moon in 1969. Above all, he recorded in 2001 the first fast radio burst (FRB) ever identified, coming from the Small Magellanic Cloud. However, it will be necessary to wait until 2007 for this event to be detected thanks to the analysis of archived data. Other older data from the observatory is then dissected.

So it was that in 2011, Sarah Burke-Spolaor, a professor at the University of West Virginia (United States), put her finger on a series of strange bursts of radio waves of a few milliseconds recorded since 1998. These events are similar to those FRB, but they seem to come from all over the sky. In fact, the Parkes telescope uses a receiver made up of 13 pixels, each of which corresponds to a region of the sky. A pulse of waves from a distant star typically only appears in a single pixel. But the new Parkes signals appeared, they, in all 13 pixels at the same time!

This is only possible if they emanate from the terrestrial environment. Sarah Burke-Spolaor then gives them the name of “perytons” (peritios in French): imaginary hybrid animals between the bird and the deer that project a deceptive human shadow. “We suspected that its origin was related to some kind of electronic interference man-made or lightning strikes in the atmosphere, recalls Emily Petroff, astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands). The problem is that, at a time when no one was sure of the reality of fast radio bursts, the discovery of the peritia also cast doubt on their existence.

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