Pilots in Elite Dangerous [official site] have discovered a hidden map in an alien probe after scanning the probe and applying a spectral analysis to the sound it produced. Probes like this have been around for a while but it wasn't until last week that a player, Cmdr Rizal, "honked" at one (commander slang for using your Discovery Scanner) and documented the "reply". Worryingly, the probe first sent out an EMP blast, temporarily cutting off the ship's power. But after that, it spoke.
Only last week players were reporting distress calls that suggested a return of the Thargoids, Elite's original alien boogieman, with the power to pull you out of warp and destroy you in moments. Now, the hunt continues.
When another commander applied a spectral analysis to the fuzzy, clicking audio the alien probes produced, he found that an image clearly appeared. A circular globe with noticeable lines and symbols in the four corners.
Baring a resemblance to humanity's own errant probe, Voyager 2, and its map of the cosmos, the image has fired the imaginations of pilots starved for content. The Elite Dangerous forums are now awash with competing theories about this message. Most believe it is a map of some description, or a compass, leading to a place of interest or an alien vessel.
Some have declared it to be a marker which, when placed with its centrepoint on Sagittarius A (the super-massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy), points to a region of space that is "permit locked". These are systems where players cannot enter, hinting that this space has been reserved by Frontier for use in a future expansion. Perhaps, an alieny expansion.
Others say this is hogwash, and declare the image to be a map of the moon Merope 5c, where alien "structures" known as barnacles have already been discovered. Although many commanders are flying over this moon, scouring it for secrets, few have reported anything of note. At least two commanders have reported taking random damage above the planet's surface in certain zones but many are dismissing this as heat damage from pilot error.
While the investigators march on with their work, they also have to deal with a huge amount of noise from one another. Many of the theories and posts are nothing more than the chaotic musings of those donning tin foil hats. Much of the conversation is spent trying to persuade people not to look for patterns in random data, where no patterns exist. There is still an entire bank of Soundcloud files from the time commanders tried to find a "voice" in the sound the alien barnacles made. In that instance, they failed to find anything beyond an indistinct murmuring.
The playerbase is convinced, however, of the Thargoids imminent return. And these events do seem to suggest Frontier has something planned. But perhaps the most salient point in the E:D hivemind comes from a commander called koop26:
"How much content is expected here? The devs are rumored to be making an alien expansion pack, so this is all lead-up. The question is, how much resolution are we expecting out of these hints? How much content is hidden under the surface for us to find and enable? Lots of players searching for something that isn't implemented yet. I personally don't know enough about what they've said to know if we're going down a rabbit hole to finding another thing we can't interact with yet."
My favourite theory, however, is this one - that the players have simply found things in the wrong order than Frontier intended. The barnacles on Merope 5c are what the probe map points to. But the pilots of Elite Dangerous simply found these beings first, and only then thought to scan and analyse the probe.
Anyway, a good rundown of the whole thing can be found in this video. What about you? Have you got your own theories (beyond the obvious one of Frontier simply pulling the mystery lever)?