Scientists have reported they are picking up repeated blasts of radio signals from deep in space.
While radio blasts from deep space have been detected before, it is only the second time ever that such a radio blast has been repeated. One of the newly detected signals repeated itself six times, apparently from the same location.
Scientists claim the breakthrough offers an opportunity to finally understand where the signal could be coming from. Until now, there has only been speculation as to the blasts’ origins, such as exploding stars to alien transmissions, as evidence has always been so scarce, until now.
The most recent signals only last for a millisecond each, according to the Independent, but each one is flung through the galaxy with the same amount of energy the sun produces in 12 months.
Most intriguingly, scientists have detected one of these bursts repeat itself six times, each time from the same location.
Ingrid Stairs, an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia, said:
Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB [fast radio burst]. Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there. And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles — where they’re from and what causes them.
Scientists believe that finding these repeating signals means they will eventually find a ‘substantial population’ of such signals.
Cherry Ng, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, said:
That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant, or near the central black hole in a galaxy. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see.
In a three-week period, researchers detected 13 fast radio bursts, providing them with more information on the phenomenon than before. Scientists are hoping to use this data to uncover where the signals have come from, whether they are naturally or spontaneously occurring, or whether they have been purposefully created.
Arun Naidu of McGill University said:
Whatever the source of these radio waves is, it’s interesting to see how wide a range of frequencies it can produce. There are some models where intrinsically the source can’t produce anything below a certain frequency.
The new signals were discovered by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), in British Columbia. The team picked up more of these signals than they were expecting, having originally thought the range of detectable frequencies was too low.
Of the 13 blasts picked up by CHIME, at least seven were at the lowest frequency of any detected so far, at 400 MHz. This also suggests there are more blasts to be picked up, but are undetected at the moment, as their frequencies are too low.
Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member from the National Research Council of Canada, said:
[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth. That tells us something about the environments and the sources. We haven’t solved the problem, but it’s several more pieces in the puzzle.
Let’s hope the team pick up even more radio signals to fill in the rest of the puzzle soon!
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.