June 27th – The Signal Day of Uride’s Satellite

There are lots of things orbiting the Earth, with only some of them, like the moon, being consistently visible. Yet there are many other small rocks up there, and even a couple of alternate moons with odd, distant orbits, spinning around us without a care in the world. Today one such rock will pass by, or at least it is assumed to be a rock, the truth of the matter is that nobody is quite sure what it’s made out of; they’ve only seen it a handful of times.

Uride’s Satellite, so named after Salman Uride, the 15th century astronomer who discovered it, has a complex ‘horseshoe’ orbit, meaning that it only comes close to the Earth twice a year, although usually not in the sky over Buentoille. It is even more unlikely that it will pass at night, and therefore be visible via telescope as a slight winking of light in the sky. In that case, how do we know it is there at all? Well, besides the complex calculations of astronomers, there is one other way by which Uride’s Satellite can be recognised: it seems to put out a constant, short range radio signal.

There are several listening stations across the City at which scientists, cryptographers and conspiracy theorists alike gather today, but those dedicated to accuracy will travel out to the Ancestor mountains where listening posts and observatories have been built that are not affected by radiodance, an unexplained modulation of the electromagnetic spectrum in the Buentoille region which could potentially cause interference. Because of the general background radiation of the universe, the extremely weak signal given out by the Satellite is drowned out at long distances, but becomes detectable on days that it passes close to Buentoille.

The signal itself seems relatively simple; several ‘blips’ in the upper part of the radio section of the electromagnetic spectrum which repeat with near-perfect regularity. Each blip lasts for about half a second, and there is a gap in-between that lasts for around two minutes. At first, believers in aliens was convinced that the signal and its regularity was evidence that the Satellite was artificial, placed there by some ancient alien race, or even a long-passed Earthbound one who were far more technologically advanced than modern Buentoille is. Sceptics of these theories pointed out that there are plenty of regular movements and signals coming from space, such as pulsar stars.

But then, after a few more visits from Uride’s Satellite, more data was accrued with more sensitive instruments, and it appeared that there were small inconsistencies in the regularity, the blips and gaps being slightly longer or shorter here and there. Surely this was evidence of some intentional communication from civilisations beyond the stars? The Guild of Conspiracy Theorists certainly seemed to think so, hiring several cryptographers to attempt to decode the signal, but so far they have been unsuccessful in creating anything but meaningless strings of numbers. Perhaps today will change that, the first new data since 1994 might have some crucial detail, some key to unlocking the mystery.

Obviously there are several other explanations that have been posed by less eccentric scientists. For example, it has been proposed that the changes in timing between the blips could be down to interference from radiodance and the atmosphere slowing the signal inconsistently because of dense clouds, or even because of using oversensitive equipment. They will never find meaning inherent in the changes, because there is none there. However, this does little to explain why what is presumably a lump of rock is transmitting a signal in the first place.

There are plenty of scientists who insistent (with a fanaticism that rivals the conspiracy theorists) that the signal is entirely natural. One such theory states that the signal is created by interaction between the Earth’s electromagnetic field and that of the Satellite, which could be made partly of iron or other magnetic metals. Another states that the gravitational field of the Earth produces a regular cracking of the Satellite’s rock, creating small electromagnetic pulses. Or perhaps the Satellite is rotating regularly, reflecting light and radio signals from a nearby star from one of its surfaces towards the City. Much like the conspiracy theories there seems to be no way to prove or disprove any of these theories.

Whatever the reality of this rock on its visit today, it certainly does something to bring the community together; groups of respected scientists and alien watchers are cramped into small buildings today, huddled around recording equipment, taking turns to hold headsets to their ears, the initial icy atmosphere inexorably moving toward good-natured argument and a certain strange camaraderie. After all, they all seek the truth, just from different viewpoints.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Timing of the Duck
  • The Classical Operatic Society’s Annual Picnic
  • The Festival of the Jaundiced Lovers