Scientists believe they have finally located the source of a mysterious signal transmitted from deep space.
Fast radio bursts have been detected on 18 occasions, reports The Independent, and have been puzzling researchers since 2007. Theories have ranged from a megastar to jets bursting from blackholes, and even aliens.
The powerful waves last no longer than a millisecond and were first spotted by Australia’s Parkes telescope in 2007. 17 further signals have been heard but only one repeatedly.
That repeated burst became subject to a six month study which has allowed for its location, with scientists claiming a faint dwarf galaxy more than three billion light years away holds the source.
A multi-antenna radio telescope operated by the US National Science Foundation called the Very Large Array was used to find FRB 121102, as the galaxy has been called.
Dr Shriharsh Tendulkar from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, said of the discovery:
Before we knew the distance to any FRBs, several proposed explanations for their origins said they could be coming from within or near our own Milky Way galaxy. We now have ruled out those explanations, at least for this FRB.
Adding to intrigue the FRB were accompanied by weaker, persistent, radio emissions. High precision observations then revealed the two emission sources could not be more than 100 light years apart.
Precisely what caused the FRB is still unclear, but scientists have suggested a likely candidate could be a super-dense neutron star, a potential “magnetar”. This is a neutron star with a very powerful magnetic field which is surrounded by the debris from a stellar explosion.
Dr Benito Marcote, of the Joint Institute for VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) in the Netherlands, said:
We think that the bursts and the continuous source are likely to be either the same object or that they are somehow physically associated with each other.
The alternative popular theory is the idea that jets of material expelled from the fringes of a supermassive black hole.
Dr Shami Chatterjee, from Cornell University explained “Finding the host galaxy of this FRB, and its distance, is a big step forward, but we still have much more to do before we fully understand what these things are.”