A coded message from a remote galaxy in a gravitational wave
Thanks for having fun with us and INFN today.
This joke was inspired by the short story ‘The Light Years’ from ‘The Cosmicomics’ by iconic italian author Italo Calvino, whose 100th birthday would have been this year. In the short story, the protagonist Qfwfq one night spots a sign in a distant galaxy that reads ‘I SAW YOU’.]
The VIRGO experiment has detected an unusual gravitational wave signal from a galaxy a hundred million light years away from us which, according to data analysis, may be hiding a coded message. The result was obtained in collaboration with a team of researchers from A. P. Physh University, who have long been studying the possibility of embedding encrypted information in gravitational signals and transferring them into space without distortion.
The signal, GW230401, was not compatible with any of the gravitational sources observable to date by VIRGO, such as neutron star mergers or black holes. “When we were contacted by the VIRGO collaboration, we thought that the collaboration scientists had made a mistake,” comments Calvin O. Ethalon, leading the Physh University group. “However, as soon as we saw the results of the filtering procedures on the amplitude-time diagrams of the GW230401 event, we were astounded: there were traces in the graph that were compatible with information-encoded gravitational wave signals, similar to those that our research group has been trying to create for years.”
The unusual traces in the amplitude-time diagram do not correspond to any typical gravitational signal observed so far. Given these unusual characteristics, the Physh University research team therefore decided to analyse time-frequency diagrams made available by Virgo, increasing the signal-to-noise ratio through the use of machine learning techniques. The new analysis cleared up any doubts. “The signal,” says Calvin O. Ethalon “contained an encrypted message, which we were able to interpret within a few weeks with the help of expert decoders”. Ethalon continues: ‘Even though great caution and a rigorous scientific approach must guide us in cases like this, it would seem that the encoded information corresponds to the message I SAW YOU.”
The signal, coming from the direction of the Pisces constellation, travelled for one hundred million years before reaching Earth from the remote galaxy from which it was sent. “This incredible discovery, if confirmed, would pave the way for the study of similar techniques for encoding and transmitting signals from Earth, with the hope that a possible form of intelligent life, which might have sent us this message a hundred million years ago, did not see too inconvenient aspects of our past and would still want to talk to us in the future,” concludes Calvin O. Ethalon.
Virgo is a laser interferometer with two 3-kilometre arms, in the countryside near Pisa, built to detect gravitational waves: oscillations of space-time predicted by Einstein more than a century ago. Virgo is currently one of the three largest and most sensitive gravitational wave detectors in the world, together with the two US interferometers LIGO, with which it has been working jointly since 2017. The Virgo Scientific Collaboration consists of over 700 scientists from 15 countries and together with the LIGO and KAGRA Collaborations forms the larger LIGO – Virgo – KAGRA Collaboration, which has over 2000 members.
Virgo is housed within EGO, the European Gravitational Observatory, an international research institution funded by the French CNRS – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the Italian INFN and the Dutch NIKhef, Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics.