Alien contact? Mysteriously repeating radio signals captured by Canadian telescope

James Marshall
January 11, 2019

The radio burst, which repeated its signal six times, was detected among 13 other so-called Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, in July and August of previous year.

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are cosmic radio bursts that last only milliseconds.

"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.

However, these aren't your usual everyday radio signals, carrying with it a rap number composed in some alien tongue billions of light years away. The Canadian astronomers say they've found a second repeating signal that is distinct from the first one.

One of the astronomers involved in the discovery, Deborah Good, said to Nature that they do not have almost enough data to even begin explaining what makes FRBs.

Over a period of three weeks last summer the team detected 13 of the flashes using a new type of radio telescope, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime).

Team member Dr Cherry Ng, from the University of Toronto, Canada, said: 'That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova (exploding star) remnant. "There are some models where intrinsically the source can't produce anything below a certain frequency", said Arun Naidu of McGill University in Canada, who was part of the team that detected the signal.

One of the studies reports on the discovery of 13 FRBs, including seven that were recorded at the lowest frequency thus far - 400 megahertz.

"These are extremely powerful and frequent bursts".

"Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven't identified a possible natural source with any confidence", said Loeb in a statement after the publication of a previous paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "It is still an early field though, so it is hard to put concrete constraints on the theories, but our work is a new step in that direction". CHIME was still in its test phase when it detected the radio waves and 12 other one-time bursts. It's easier, therefore, to measure and understand these effects at lower frequencies.

As for the new repeater, it's called FRB 180814.J0422+73. It was also more twice as close to Earth as the previous repeater, popping up about 1.5 billion light-years away.

Importantly, the known population of repeating FRBs is now more than one, so we know that FRB 1211012 wasn't some kind of anomaly. Most of the bursts that scientists detect come from a spot in space that never produces another such signal. Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb told Gizmodo that the reported results are "trustworthy and solid". It was beginning to look like the lone example, FRB 121102, might be a freak object, but this suggests that it may simply be rare. While it was waiting to come fully online, it picked up these 13 FRBs. "There aren't so many qualitative mysteries in astrophysics", Smith said.

In a Perimeter Institute video (below), Smith said the telescope generates an "avalanche of data, a hundred times more data than is generated by any other radio telescope".

Significantly, the 2012 and 2018 "repeaters" have strikingly similar properties.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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