Astronomers Were Baffled by a Mystery Signal For 17 Years. The Culprit? A Staff Microwave

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


It’s 2019 and people are finally starting to admit that aliens are probably in our midst. “People” meaning, for example, The New York Times. But scientists and laypeople have been observing unexplainable phenomena for practically forever. Or in one case, practically unexplainable phenomena that turned out to be…definitely not aliens at all. Instead, the weirdness was coming from a way less exciting source: a microwave oven.

Astronomers at a famous Australian telescope called “The Dish” received strange signals from an unknown source for 17 years. 17 years! The signals would always come in once or twice each year. Known as perytons, they were detected “within five kilometers” of the observatory.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When the scientists first detected the signals in 1998, they assumed they were coming from the atmosphere, possibly from lightning strikes.

But then, in 2015, they installed a new receiver to monitor the interference. It detected strong signals at 2.4 GHz – the signature of a microwave oven.

Yep, that 17-year-old mystery turned out to originate from the staff kitchen.

Upon further study, the astronomers discovered that the microwave generates interference only if the door is opened after it’s been set to heat. The signals were rare, because they only happened when the telescope was pointed right at the microwave oven while a staff member happened to open the door halfway through eating up their lunch.

So, yeah. Not the most exciting discovery, but a pretty unforgettable story.

Dr. Emily Petroff is the astronomer who finally figured out the source of the perytons.

“Didn’t swear, but definitely wasn’t quiet when the data came through,” she tweeted.

It should be noted that Dr. Petroff and the other astronomers weren’t really searching for aliens, but that’s the conclusion many people might jump to upon mention of “mysterious signals.”

It seems the lab has made some improvements to their microwaving technology since then:

Aliens… Hot pockets… Same thing.