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Early during his stay on prehistoric Earth, Ford Prefect receives a faint and distant signal through his Sub-Etha Sens-o-matic:

Nevertheless, Ford Prefect began to use his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic more often again. Only once did he pick up a signal, but that was so faint and from such enormous distance that it depressed him more than the silence that had otherwise continued unbroken.

~ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Is the origin of this signal ever adequately explored?

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Do you mean his arrival in the first book or is this the prehistoric period in one of the later books (forget which one)? –  terdon Mar 5 at 17:02
    
@terdon: As the question says, "ancient Earth". –  Williham Totland Mar 5 at 17:03
    
OK, I didn't remember if they also spent time in ancient (thousands of years ago) as opposed to prehistoric (millions of years) Earth, that's why I asked. –  terdon Mar 5 at 17:04
    
@terdon: I've possibly made the question clearer. –  Williham Totland Mar 5 at 17:10
    
You mean specifically this quote? "Nevertheless, Ford Prefect began to use his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic more often again. Only once did he pick up a signal, but that was so faint and from such enormous distance that it depressed him more than the silence that had otherwise continued unbroken." Restaurant. Chapter 30 I think. –  joshbirk Mar 5 at 17:14

2 Answers 2

The canon quote is;

Nevertheless, Ford Prefect began to use his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic more often again. Only once did he pick up a signal, but that was so faint and from such enormous distance that it depressed him more than the silence that had otherwise continued unbroken.

Ford is trapped on the Golgafrincham's new colony world (AKA Earth) and is very keen to get back to the more civilised parts of the galaxy. The distant signal he detects could be anything but from a writer's standpoint it serves to emphasise how far Earth is from the 'shipping lanes' and how remote his chances of being rescued using his "electric thumb".

Don't forget, it took him over 15 years to get rescued the last time and it was only due to a Vogon fleet turning up in his lap.

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Especially once you factor in relativity, hyperspace bypasses and an Infinite Improbability Drive bouncing around - it could be anything from the Vogons to a whale. –  joshbirk Mar 5 at 17:40
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Do whales come equipped with a Sub-Etha transmitter? –  Zoredache Mar 5 at 17:47
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+1 for this; it seems no different than being stranded on a desert island and seeing the vapour trail from a passing jet one day. No particular reason why this should be anything significant, and no reason to assume that it may be. –  Jimmy Shelter Mar 5 at 18:09
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@RemcoGerlich - It seems very improbable indeed, but not infinitely so. –  Richard Mar 5 at 21:43
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@Zoredache - Dolphins do ! –  Pat Dobson Mar 6 at 12:48

This signal could have been a result of the very short visit of Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged who dropped in to insult Arthur and then immediately left.

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Clever, but this doesn't account for the fact that the sub-etha is silent after he detects the signal. Presumably if it was Wowbagger, the signal would get stronger and closer. –  Richard May 10 at 17:42
    
it depends on when he checked the sub-etha, if he checked it while he was leaving then it would have been fainter and faded out –  IG_42 May 10 at 23:33
    
We see him check the Sub-Etha on page 166 of the combined books. Wowbagger doesn't arrive until page 188 of the next book. It's a clever idea but the timing is wrong. –  Richard May 11 at 5:28

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