Energy

After 10 Years, Scientists Finally Identify Source Of Mysterious ‘Fast’ Radio Signal

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

After 10 years of study, astronomers concluded Wednesday a mysterious and repeating “fast” radio signal came from a distant dwarf galaxy.

Radio astronomers have detected 18 different mysterious milliseconds-long blasts of radio waves, called “fast radio bursts” (FRB), from various parts of space. FRB 121102 was particularly intriguing to scientists, as the signal sporadically repeated. Researchers have long thought that a repeating signal could be an indicator of an intelligent alien civilization.

“These radio flashes must have enormous amounts of energy to be visible from that distance,” Dr. Shami Chatterjee, an astronomer at Cornell University who was involved in the research, told Universe Today. “It was like trying to find a needle in a terabyte haystack. It took a lot of algorithmic work to find it.”

Researchers aren’t sure what caused the powerful repeating signal, but many explanations are purely natural. Astronomers believed stellar oddities were caused by aliens before, when in reality they were simply unknown, new phenomenon.

“It may be a magnetar – a newborn neutron star with a huge magnetic field, inside a supernova remnant or a pulsar wind nebula – somehow producing these prodigious pulses,” Chatterjee said. “Or, it may be a combination of all these ideas – explaining why what we’re seeing may be somewhat rare.”

Astronomers discovered 234 mysterious signals from stars in October, any one of which could be different alien species trying to talk to us.

Even though the signals closely match what astronomers suspect an alien civilization would be broadcasting, there are several other possible explanations. Alien civilizations attempting to communicate are one of the five proposed causes of the mysterious signals, and, as the authors say in their abstract, “this hypothesis needs to be confirmed with further work.”

Scientists plan to send signals to distant planets that may be inhabited by aliens by late 2018, rather than waiting for them to contact Earth.

Dubbed Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (METI), the project aims to send conversation-starters via radio or laser signals to a rocky planet dubbed the “Second Earth,” which is circling Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to Earth other than the sun. METI will then send messages to more distant destinations hundreds or thousands of light years away.

Researchers estimate that the odds of humanity being the only civilization in the universe are less than one chance in about “10 billion trillion.”

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