Astronomers Detect Mysterious Radio Signals From Deep Space

Jan Cross
January 12, 2019

Fast radio bursts are short, millisecond-long radio waves that come from billions of light years outside of the Milky Way galaxy, and for the second time ever, scientists have detected one that has been repeated, suggesting that it's coming from the same location.

Dr Ingrid Stairs, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, told the Press Association the repeated fast radio bursts suggests "there could be more out there".

The radio waves were detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), the world's most powerful radio telescope, spread across an area as big as a football pitch.

The pre-commissioning phase meant that the telescope wasn't running at its fullest capacity.

The exact origin of these radio waves or what causes them is unknown but some are speculating that they could be proof of the presence of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations.

They include exploding stars, stars with strong magnetic fields, stars merging together and - among a minority of observers - some form of alien spaceship!

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"Most of the, sort of, reasonable theories involve a neutron star, or possibly a black hole", she explains. Scientists, however, believe that it's a large and powerful astrophysical object, such as a supermassive black hole, supernova or a quasar, which could be located in an area with "special characteristics". Even though we've evolved our understanding of the cosmos over the past centuries, the reality is that we barely comprehend the many mysteries this vast expanse holds within it.

Stairs said that with CHIME, "mapping the entire northern hemisphere every day, we're bound to find more repeaters over time".

But before we try and answer if the repeating FRBs are indeed a signal from an intelligent life form living billions of light years away, let's try and understand what FRBs really are. That suggests there might be even more of them, too low to be picked up by telescopes.

A majority of the bakers' dozen FRBs detected showed signs of "scattering" or "dispersion", a phenomenon that reveals information about how much matter the bursts travelled through to reach Earth.

We still don't know what's create this or any other fast radio burst, which only adds to the mystery. According to two new papers published on January 9, 2019, in the journal Nature, scientists working at CHIME have detected 13 new FRBs in just a two-month span.

The two sets of repeating bursts would help scientists understand what distinguishes repeating signals from single bursts, their source, and also watch out for future radio bursts. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see'. CHIME is a partnership between the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the Canadian National Research Council's Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.

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