Astronomers intercept mysterious repeating radio signals from space

Friday, 11 Jan, 2019

While these fast radio bursts (FRBs) are likely the result of black holes or strongly magnetized neutron stars, some say they could be evidence of far-flung alien life. "There are some models where intrinsically the source can't produce anything below a certain frequency". Since then, 36 have been found - 19 a year ago alone by researchers using an Australian radio telescope. He even reckons the FRBs could be coming from "planet-sized alien transmitters", The Guardian reports. Importantly, the known population of repeating FRBs is now more than one, so we know that FRB 1211012 wasn't some kind of anomaly. It left astronomers scratching their heads over an already freaky cosmic puzzle. "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.

When faced with an enigma like this, the standard scientific mantra applies: we need more data.

The pre-commissioning phase meant that the telescope wasn't running at its fullest capacity. Previously, out of dozens that have been identified, only one other had produced multiple bursts, despite a growing number of surveys looking for these objects. Every other FRB has flashed once and then disappeared. "Our data will break open some of the mysteries of FRBs". "The luminosity difference is many, many orders of magnitude", she said.

"That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant". However, these pulsars have been found in our galaxy. FRBs are among the few types of signal that interact with the diffuse fog of electrons that exists between galaxies.

"That's one followed by 12 zeros".

"So what we've shown is that by discovering a second FRB is that the repeating FRB is not unique and maybe we can hope to find more", he said in the video interview. "We have no idea how to make something that bright". If scientists can figure out how FRBs ought to look when they leave their sources, they may be able to probe the intergalactic medium by studying the way the signals change. In regular FRBs, they emit a single spike. This is only the second time a repeating burst has been recorded. We have never seen anything like this before. "So that is exciting". But these were found in the band between 400 and 800 MHz. While interesting, these new observations, he said, can not tell us about the nature of these sources-at least not yet.

For more information about CHIME, visit the project website. With this new discovery, astronomers are now hopeful of finding even more repeaters. "CHIME reconstructs the image of the overhead sky by processing the radio signals recorded by thousands of antennas with a large signal processing system", explains Perimeter Institute's Kendrick Smith. The latest entry, CHIME (for Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment), has only just been built, but its builders started having it do science while still under construction.

"It's still too early to tell for sure", he said.