Repeating bursts of radio waves coming from a distant dwarf galaxy probably aren’t signals from an extraterrestrial civilization, but that hasn’t stopped a group of E.T. hunters from investigating this peculiar phenomenon.
In August, scientists with the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative began observing an object known as FRB 121102. The object is one of less than 40 known examples of a fast radio burst (FRB), an incredibly bright flash of radio waves. Scientists don’t yet know what causes FRBs, which is why they took a particular interest in FRB 121102. While all other observed FRBs are single explosions of radio waves, this one was releasing bright flashes of light over and over again.
A new study, co-authored by scientists with Breakthrough Listen, reveals the conclusions of those August observations: nearly 100 percent of the light from FRB 121102 is polarized, meaning the orientation of the light waves are all in the same direction. Most radiating objects in the universe produce unpolarized light, so the uniformity of light from FRB 121102 could help scientists narrow down the type of object or environment that might be producing those flashes. (You can read our full story here.)