Players probe Elite game space mystery
Elite Dangerous gamers are working feverishly to decipher a puzzle uncovered by one player of the space simulation.
The puzzle is in the shape of a map hidden in a signal sent when a player scanned a mysterious in-game object.
Some suspect that the signal means a hostile alien race is about to arrive in the game.
Frontier, which makes Elite, has declined to comment on the discovery of the signal or its significance.
Elite Dangerous is a space trading and fighting game set in a massive simulation of the Milky Way.
The mysterious object is one of several "unknown probes" that were added to the game in a recent update. One player discovered that when the probe was scanned with their spaceship's sensors these objects glow and then respond with a transmission that temporarily disables their craft.
Reports of the response spread quickly online and many players subjected the message to different types of analysis which eventually revealed a strange diagram buried within it.
Some have interpreted the map to point to a region of space that players currently cannot explore. It is believed to be off limits because many suspect Frontier plans to use it as the location for the star-spanning empire of the alien Thargoid race that has appeared in all other Elite games.
Others say the map simply points to strange structures on the surface of a moon called Merope 5C that have already been discovered. Many other theories about the map's meaning are being heavily debated on social media and Elite's discussion forums.
"Much of the conversation is spent trying to persuade people not to look for patterns in random data, where no patterns exist," wrote Brendan Caldwell on the Rock, Paper, Shotgun game news site.
Mr Caldwell said there were other examples of times when Elite players have spent a lot of time and effort to decode mysteries that turned out to be no such thing.
His favourite theory is that players have simply uncovered in-game artefacts in the wrong order and the map does point to the odd structures on the Merope moon.
"The player base is convinced, however, of the Thargoids' imminent return," he said. "And these events do seem to suggest Frontier has something planned."
Frontier said it was "unable to comment on galactic rumour and speculation" in a statement sent to tech news site Ars Technica.