Mysterious fast radio bursts discovered from deep space ‘could be aliens’

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Scientists have recorded the second repeating fast radio burst to be discovered, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The breakthrough is only the second time scientists have seen such a repeating radio burst from a galaxy billions of light years away. Some have proposed explanations, such as energy being flung as black holes tear stars apart, or perhaps even distant alien civilizations sending out long-range signals in the hopes of finding intelligent life.

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, picked up the radio signatures of the bursts over the course of three weeks in July and August, while the telescope was in its pre-commissioning phase and running at only a fraction of its design capacity.

The FRBs were detected first by accident in 2007 as a burst signal in radio astronomy data collected in 2001 was spotted.

Of more than 60 FRBs detected to date, such repeating bursts have only been picked up once before, by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2015. "Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there", said Ingrid Stairs, a member of the CHIME team.

The telescope only got up and running past year, detecting 13 of the radio bursts nearly immediately, including the repeater.

Most of the 13 found by Chime showed signs of "scattering", which scientists said suggests they could come from powerful astrophysical objects in locations with special characteristics. The majority of previously detected FRBs were found at frequencies near 1400 MHz. The unexpectedly low 400 MHz frequency suggests FRBs might be detected at even lower frequencies, but another instrument would have to be used for that, as this is as low as CHIME can go. "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.

"Different emission mechanisms expect that FRBs will be emitted within a certain range of radio frequencies, much like a light bulb can not emit X-rays or a microwave oven can not emit ultraviolet light", Tendulkar told Gizmodo.

Since FRBs occur so quickly, studying them and identifying the source is hard.

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". The University of Toronto's Cherry Ng also told CNET that evidence of "scattering" (the effect of electrons and magnetic fields on the bursts' long journey) could help pinpoint their origins.

Good said that "if we had 1,000 examples, we would be able to say many more things about what FRBs are like".

To which he added: "CHIME is the most prolific FRB hunter in the world and we are looking forward to sharing new results in the upcoming months". "But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see".

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