Scientists have detected strange radio bursts coming from a long distant galaxy.
Fast radio bursts are perhaps the most mysterious thing in the known universe: strange, brief emissions that come from distant but unknown sources. Now scientists have received 15 of those powerful signals coming from one mysterious, repeating source known as FRB 121102, the only source known to repeat.
The messages were picked up by Breakthrough Listen, a major project that is attempting to find signs of intelligent life in the universe. Some have speculated the bursts themselves could be sent on purpose, including perhaps being used as directed energy sources that are sent at spacecraft.
The bursts appear to line up in a strange alignment, and often come from the same part of space, leading some to suggest that they could be intentional rather than the result of physical events in space. Leading scientists have warned that the bursts could actually be a message from aliens that is being ignored.
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Last year, scientists identified the source of the repeating burst as a dwarf galaxy, three billion light years away. But still very little is known, including how exactly the bursts are being sent to Earth.
Since then, astronomers have been pointing telescopes at the same galaxy in an attempt to see more of the bursts, and understand them. It’s difficult to know when or where the bursts will come from, so the repeating galaxy has become an important and reliable way of spotting them.
The newly discovered burst will allow scientists to see more of what is actually happening than ever before, according to the scientists who found it.
“As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before,” said Breakthrough Listen postdoctoral researcher Vishal Gajjar, who discovered the increased activity.
Scientists had initially been worried that the bursts might not actually been coming from space, and were actually a mis-understood signal from Earth, as when astronomers found that they had accidentally detected their own microwave. But recent work showed that the messages were coming from outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.