Astronomers intercept mysterious repeating radio signals from space

FRB Origin

Radio Signals From A Galaxy Light Years Away Have Been Reported

Some scientists suspect that these radio waves originate from black hole activity or solar flares that travel from billions of light-years away. And the existence of a second repeater means 2012's was not a fluke or an instrument error - something is producing these repeating bursts of light, and it's clearly fixed in place over long periods of time.

So, is this proof of extraterrestrial life? They also show signs of "scattering", which suggests the sources could be powerful astrophysical objects in locations with special characteristics, the scientists said.

The CHIME team's recent results settles these doubts, with the majority of the 13 bursts being recorded well down to the lowest frequencies in CHIME's range. That suggests there might be even more of them, too low to be picked up by telescopes.

"Knowing where they are will enable scientists to point their telescopes at them, creating an opportunity to study these mysterious signals in detail", Stairs said.

Despite the relative scarcity of recorded FRBs, these signals could eventually be more regular than we think.

There has been a large gap between burst detections. The discovery is significant because it's only the second time ever a repeating signal has been observed by scientists. "We haven't solved the problem, but it's several more pieces in the puzzle", says Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member from the National Research Council of Canada.

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Unlike typical FRBs that come and go, the discovery of a repeating FRB is vital to increasing our understanding of them, as we are able to train our radio telescopes towards them to study them further.

Even though FRBs were detected in 2007, it was only in 2015 that the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected such repeating radio waves. Avi Loeb, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who was not involved in the study, suggests the pulses could be "artificially produced". "An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking", he said.

The CHIME telescope has four cylindrical reflector dishes that cover an area equal to two football fields. And in less than the blink of an eye, they ping into the data collected by radio telescopes out of nowhere, with as much energy as a hundred million Suns. "They must have dozens or hundreds".

The "scattering" phenomenon was detected in the radio bursts, which can help answer questions about the atmosphere surrounding the origin.

At distances of billions of light years it's obviously very hard to test any of these theories, but detecting more FRBs, especially those that have a habit of repeating, could bring us closer to an explanation.

"Look! We see FRBs", said Deborah Good, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia in Canada, while addressing a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington, on 7 January.

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