Mystery signal that plagued astronomers for 17 years was coming from the break room microwave

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May 11, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT (Updated)

Is that mysterious signal atmospheric interference from lightning strikes? Aliens sending us a message? Nope, it's just Bob heating up his burrito. 

Astronomers monitoring signals on the telescope at the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, have been dealing with an unidentified signal for 17 years, ever since it popped up back in 1997. According to The Guardian, they remained baffled by the perytons, described as "millisecond-duration transients of terrestrial origin," for years, until the team installed a new receiver to help monitor interference.

As a new report reveals, the team finally found the culprit -- a break room microwave housed in the observatory's kitchen. The signal occurred so rarely and randomly that the team never could pinpoint its cause. Turns out, that's because the interference was only generated when someone opened the microwave while it was still heating (as opposed to waiting until the timer ended and it kicked off automatically). The telescope also had to be pointed in the direction of the kitchen, hence the rare randomness of the signals.

Digital interference has always been an issue for astronomers, and the team is actually working to build a new dish in a more secluded area. Dubbed the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), the new dish will be located in an extremely rural area of Western Australia. Just remember to leave the microwave at the old office, guys.

(Via The Guardian, The Verge)