Mystery repeating energy bursts in deep space 'could be aliens'

A second mysterious repeating fast radio burst has been detected in space	 	 	 			Getty Images

Among the 13 fast radio bursts, known as FRBs, was a very unusual repeating signal, coming from the same source about 1.5 billion light years away.

Though scientists don't yet have an explanation for fast radio bursts, the latest signals reveal significant levels of "scattering" - details that could help scientists better characterize the nature of the astrophysical environs from which they originate.

"When these bursts happen once only, it's really hard to figure out what created them", Cherry Ng, with the University of Toronto, told The Verge.

Work on the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), which Tendulkar and his colleagues used for their research, was not quite complete when this initial baker's dozen was detected last July and August. Only one other repeating FRB has ever been found.

Chime astrophysicist Dr Ingrid Stairs from the University of British Columbia in Canada said: "Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB".

"But exactly what physics is going into producing this very energetic burst of radio waves we don't really know yet".

While scientists said that studying fast radio bursts is challenging because they're rarely spotted and "mostly one-offs", the repeating burst was one of a total of 13 bursts detected during a pre-commissioning run in the summer of 2018.

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FRBs are not rare, as about 60 have been catalogued since 2007, but only one has been a repeating FRB so far, opening up debate as to what causes them.

"Whatever the source of these radio waves is, it's interesting to see how wide a range of frequencies it can produce", said CHIME team member Dr. Arun Naidu, a researcher at McGill University.

The low frequency of this new detection could mean that the source of the bursts differ. Seeing a signal at all indicates something big, like a black hole collision, could be the cause.

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".

Indeed, it's still early days in our understanding of FRBs, but a pair of papers published today in Nature are offering tantalising new clues about this enigmatic feature of the cosmos.

The FRBs show various temporal scattering behaviours, with the majority significantly scattered, and some apparently unscattered to within measurement uncertainty even at our lowest frequencies. "But intelligent life is not on the minds of any astronomer as a source of these FRBs". "We haven't solved the problem, but it's several more pieces in the puzzle". "We would also like to study the properties of whole populations of FRBs and try to see if there are different sources that give rise to repeaters and non-repeaters".

"With CHIME mapping the entire northern hemisphere every day, we're bound to find more repeaters over time", Stairs said.

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