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Mystical delayed radio signals received in Oslo
Radio waves travel so fast that most people consider them to reach their
destination instantaneously. The only exception is a TV newscast with a live
interview to another continent. The satellite connection gives a delay of about
half a second from the end of a question to the start of the response. Still,
much longer delays have been experienced from the beginning of the radio era.
Such echoes occur very seldom and are called long delayed echoes.
My interest in this was started when I read the intriguing short essay by
Stan Horzepa in October 2003 entitled
Ghosts" where he lists some of the current theories about these echoes. An
interesting aspect of this phenomenon for me is that the first observations took
place in Oslo, actually at what is today called Bygdøy, a Western suburb which I
pass on my daily commute to work. The first report was published 75 years ago by
Carl Størmer, University of Oslo, known for being the first to measure the
height of the northern lights, and it starts like this [Størmer, 1928]:
On Feb. 29 of this year I received a letter from Engineer Jørgen Hals, Bygdø,
in which he says: "I herewith have the honour to advise you that at the end of
the summer 1927 I repeatedly heard signals from the Dutch short-wave transmitter
station PCJJ (Eindhoven). At the same time as I heard the telegraph-signals I
also heard echoes. I heard the usual echo, which goes round the earth with an
interval of about 1/7 second, as well as a weaker echo about 3 seconds after the
principal signal had gone. When the principal signal was especially strong, I
suppose that the amplitude for the last echo 3 seconds after lay between 1/10
and 1/20 of the principal signal in strength. From where this echo comes I
cannot say for the present. I will only herewith confirm that I really heard
This lead to more investigations and even simultaneous observations in Norway
and the Netherlands of the PCJJ signals at a wavelength of 31.4 meters (9.55
MHz) [v. d. Pol, 1928].
At that time, radio was a novel and unexplored field; it was for instance
only three years since the US government had tried to get all transmitters in
the country to observe radio silence for 5 minutes every hour for two days to
listen for signals from Mars.
I decided to study the topic of long-delayed echoes (LDE) in detail and I
went through the papers listed at the end, with the aim of finding out the
status of possible natural explanations. This resulted in an
published on the main site for popular
research in Norway. Parts of the fascination and mystique about long-delayed
radio echoes are that they are still not properly explained. This has also led
to some rather exotic explanations involving extra-terrestrials, listed at the
Shlionskiy  divides possible explanations in two groups: Reflections
outside the earth system and effects in the earth's ionosphere or magnetosphere.
He lists four hypotheses in the first group and eleven in the second. A
mind-boggling fact is that the several of the explanations involve media where
radio waves no longer travel in straight lines, or at much lower speeds than
300,000 km/sec. An excellent historical review is given by Muldrew .
I follow Vidmar and Crawford  and discuss here the five most likely
explanations, listed roughly according to the frequencies they apply for.
- Ducting in the magnetosphere and ionospheric reflection.
field lines in the magnetosphere (Illustration by
The radio signal has to pass through the lower ionosphere near the
transmitter site. Then it has to be ducted along the earth's magnetic field
lines to the other hemisphere of the earth. This duct makes the radio wave
travel in a curved path. At the other side of the earth, the radio signal is
reflected from the upper ionosphere and then it follows the same path back
[Muldrew 1979]. The electromagnetic wave will follow the magnetic field line
closest to earth on its night-side in this
illustration. It is most likely to occur during winter months of years
of low solar activity, 2-3 weeks after full moon, and at about 2 MHz [Ellis,
Characteristics: Frequencies in the 1-4 MHz range and duration up to 0.5
sec. The short delay time places this effect in a different league than the
next four effects.
This effect has been confirmed to occur, both in the 3.5 MHz amateur band
[Villard et al, 1980], and the 1.8 MHz amateur band [Blagoveshchensky et al,
An observation report on 3.915
MHz from the fall of 1974, which most likely is this effect.
- Travel many times around the world.
Signals that travel once around the earth are a common phenomenon and occur
with a delay of about 1/7 of a second. Signals that travel a
few times around the world
are also not uncommon (listen to an example
here). It is
conceivable that a signal can travel many times around the earth and that
there may exist mechanisms that cause focusing or amplification of the wave
so that attenuation will be much less than expected [Shlionskiy, 1989].
Goodacre [Goodacre, 1980] reports that he pointed his antenna towards the
horizon and received his own 28 MHz signal delayed by up to about 9 seconds.
A statistical analysis of the delays revealed a periodicity of 0.138
seconds, i.e. the travel time for a signal around the earth. His measurement
implies travel up to 65 rounds around the earth. This happened in Nov. and
Dec. 1978 and Jan. 1979, i.e. about one year before
the peak of solar cycle
21. This frequency is about the upper limit that this effect could apply
ionosphere (Illustration by
- Coupling to mechanical waves in the ionosphere.
This phenomenon may take place on the top of the ionosphere where the
incident electromagnetic wave is coupled to a longitudinal plasma wave of
low group velocity (~ 1km/sec). The energy will travel along the magnetic
field waves, and an amplification of the plasma wave will take place by
beam-plasma interaction. The extent of the region where this can take place
is in the order of 10 km. Then a new mode-coupling will take place back to
electromagnetic energy. The effect occurs for frequencies near the maximum
frequency reflected from the F2 ionospheric layer (f0F2), typically 5-10
MHz, but occasionally up to some 20 MHz.
This effect was investigated experimentally [Crawford et al 1970] and
[Vidmar and Crawford, 1985]. Although several echoes were recorded with
delays up to about 40 seconds, the authors do not draw any firm conclusion.
The tests took place at 5-12 MHz in 1967-1970, and in Alaska at 5.8 MHz in
Look here for today's ionosonde data and f0F2 for
- Reflection from distant plasma clouds.
This hypothesis assumes a cloud
of ionized gases and particles, coming originally from the sun. The main
problem with this hypothesis is that Doppler shifts would easily be too
great and received signals too weak. One possible exception is if the plasma
cloud is located in the earth-sun
L1 or L2, which follow the earth's movement. This would give rise to
echoes in the 8-10 seconds range for signals that pass through the
ionosphere, i.e. mostly high HF and VHF/UHF signals.
Budden and Yates  conducted experiments from 1947-1949 at 13.5 and
20.7 MHz with vertical transmission to test if they could receive such
echoes, but in 27000 transmissions they did not detect a single echo.
On the other hand Freyman  did experiments from Alaska in the
auroral zone at 9.9 MHz. He wanted to test if radio waves would be guided
along magnetic field lines and be reflected off solar plasma. He detected
several thousand echoes of delay up to 16 seconds at times when there was a
change in the magnetic field and solar plasma probably entered the
- Non-linearity in addition to coupling to mechanical waves.
Another possible explanation for VHF and UHF echoes was proposed by Muldrew
in 1979. It assumes the presence of an unknown second transmitter, and that
non-linearity generates a difference frequency that falls in the range of
f0F2. The difference frequency is then subject to the former coupling effect
to mechanical waves. The difference frequency then propagates as a plasma
wave, and then it couples back via the second transmitter's frequency to the
original frequency and propagates normally back to the observer.
This effect could account for larger variations in delay time than the
former hypothesis. It could explain radio amateur observations of echoes in
the 50, 144, 432 and 1296 MHz bands, especially during attempts at
One UHF example is Hans Rasmussen's (OZ9CR) report on echoes delayed by
4.6 seconds at 1296 MHz [Rasmussen, 1975]. Another example, documented by a
strip-chart recording, is an
observation at 432 MHz of a delay of about 5.75 seconds by John Yurek
The fact that there is no consensus on the explanation of long delayed echoes,
naturally leads to some rather imaginative explanations. They are based on
interpretation of the delay times recorded in the first reports of long-delayed
It is easy to come up with objections to these interpretations:
- Message from extra-terrestrials located in the trailing moon-earth
point (L4 or L5) with a message
about their origin. This
theory is credited to Duncan A. Lunan who published it as "Spaceprobe from
Epsilon Bootes" in Spaceflight, the journal of the British Interplanetary
Society in 1973. Here are the delays from [v. d. Pol, 1928] plotted:
The points plotted to the right of the axis at a delay of 8 seconds are
supposedly how the constellation
looked 12,600 years ago. To achieve this image, the point for delay no 6 at
3 seconds, has to be moved to 8+3=11 seconds (the red point). See original
figure halfway down this
page. This kind of data massaging is usually not considered to be good
- Filipenko uses the integer delays as a means of looking up elements in
the periodic table, and finds that extra-terrestrials may have communicated
to us already in 1928 how to make
- Here is
another interpretation by
Rashid Faizullin, seemingly also a geometrical interpretation in terms
of positions of stars.
These objections withstanding, I cannot but admire the imagination of the people
who have come up with these interpretations. I am not the only one who is
fascinated by this, judging from the large number of internet pages that deal
with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and LDE (Long Delayed
Echoes) interpretations, many more than the natural explanations occupy. Just
try a search using these words: Størmer (or Störmer, Stormer, Stermer), Hals,
- Measurement round-off. The delays are all integer values, while
papers after the early 1930's all report delays with fractional seconds. I
attribute this to improvements in measurement technology. The radios at that
time were quite experimental as commercial short wave broadcasting had not
yet started. They used 'oscillographs' for recording signals, which means
reading out a distance on a piece of paper or film. It could also be that
some of the time delays were measured with mechanical stop watches with
something like 1/10 second resolution. Due to the many sources of
measurement errors that they all were aware of, they may have just rounded
the results to integers.
- One second unit. The second is not a universal unit, but
originally related to human physiology, as a typical heart beat lasts for
one second. If the extra-terrestrial civilization knew us so well that they
knew our units for time, then they for sure would know a lot of other things
about us as well. Why didn't they choose to communicate to us in a much more
obvious way, with all that background knowledge about us already?
- Probability of sequence. Any interpretation of a sequence of
numbers should be based on an underlying calculation of probabilities. How
likely is this sequence if the numbers are drawn from a random generator?
The delay sequences are relatively short, so I would not be surprised if
there is a considerable likelihood that they can be generated from random
References 6 and 9 may be downloaded from
Gabriel Sampol's (EA6VQ) LDE
page (Scroll down to the bottom of the page). This page also contains
several interesting accounts of LDEs.
- C. Størmer, "Short wave echoes and the aurora borealis," Nature, No.
3079, Vol. 122, p. 681, Nov. 3, 1928.
- B. v. d. Pol, "Short wave echoes and the aurora borealis," Nature, No.
3084, Vol. 122, pp. 878-879, Dec. 8, 1928.
- K. G. Budden and G. G. Yates, "A search for radio echoes of long delay,"
J. Atmos Terr. Phys., 2, 272, 1952.
- F. W. Crawford, D. M. Sears, R. L. Bruce, "Possible observations and
mechanism of very long delayed radio echoes," Journ. Geophys. Res., vol. 75,
no. 34, pp. 7326-7332, Dec. 1970.
- H. L. Rasmussen, "Ghost echoes on the Earth-Moon path," Nature, Vol.
257, p 36, Sept. 4, 1975.
- D. B. Muldrew, "Generation of long-delay echoes," Journ. Geophys. Res.,
vol. 84, no. A9, pp. 5199-5215, Sep. 1979.
- A. K. Goodacre, "Observations of long-delayed echoes on 28 MHz," QST,
March 1980, pp. 14-16.
- A. K. Goodacre, "Some observations of long-delay wireless echoes on the
28-MHz amateur band," Journ. Geophys. Res., Vol. 85, No. A5, pp. 2329-2334,
- O. G. Villard, D. B. Muldrew, and F. W. Waxham, "The magnetospheric echo
box - A type of long-delayed echo explained," QST, Oct. 1980, pp. 11-14.
- R. W. Freyman, "Measurements of long delayed radio echoes in the auroral
zone," Geophys. Res. Letters, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 385-388, April 1981.
- R. J. Vidmar and F. W. Crawford, "Long-delayed radio echoes: Mechanisms
and observations," Journ. Geophys. Res., vol. 90, no. A2, pp. 1523-1530,
- A. G. Shlionskiy, "Radio echos with multisecond delays," Telecomm. and
Radio Eng., Vol 44, No. 12, pp. 48-51, Dec. 1989.
- G. R. A. Ellis and G. T. Goldstone, "The probability of observing ducted
magnetospheric echoes from the ground," Journ. Geophys. Res., vol. 95, no.
A5, pp. 6587-6590, May. 1990.
- V. Grassmann,
"Long-delayed radio echoes, Observations and interpretations," VHF
Communications vol 2, pp. 109-116, 1993.
- D. V. Blagoveshchensky, K. A. Dobroselsky, O. A. Mltseva, "Main
ionospheric trough as a channel for MF propagation in the magnetosphere,"
Radio Science, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp 1477-1490, Jul-Aug 1997.
First created 16 March 2004, updated 11 December 2005 and 11 July 2007.
© Sverre Holm
University of Oslo
THAT NEEDS LOOKING IN TO!!
TIME VIEWING VIA DELAY.... SOUNDS LIKE A TIME VIEWER!!