Arthur C. Clarke once said: ‘Two possibilites exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying’ – especially when you’re on planet Earth.
Well it looks as though he may be onto something as astronomers searching for signals from alien civilisations have detected 15 powerful repeated radio pulses, coming from a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light years away.
The fast radio bursts are from an unknown source, but some believe they could be emanating from black holes or rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields.
A more speculative possibility is they are beacons from extraterrestrial spacecraft – ET if that’s you, we won’t cause you harm!
According to the The Guardian, the signals were picked up by the Breakthrough Listen project – a $100m (£77m) initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe – which was set up by none other than Professor Stephen Hawking and Russian internet billionaire Yuri Milner.
Previously, about two dozen fast radio bursts have been detected – they only last a few milliseconds so radio telescopes can only monitor a small area of the sky at any given time.
In 2012, ‘FRB 121102’ was discovered and is said to reside in a dwarf galaxy about 3bn light years away from planet Earth.
15 more signals have been observed from the same source, at a higher frequency than the previous ones, although it’s unclear what this signfies.
Vishal Gajjar, who discovered the increased activity said:
As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before.
Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and of the Breakthrough Listen programme, continued:
Whether or not fast radio bursts turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the universe around us.
The findings were reported on the Astronomer’s Telegram website.
As Mulder and Scully would say… the truth is out there.