In a galaxy far, far away...3 billion light-years away, to be exact, radio signals are being heard. Okay, maybe "heard" is a bit an exaggeration, but they have been detected by astronomers in West Virginia.
The scientists who discovered these radio bursts are part of a huge project dedicated to finding signs of intelligent life in space. Recently, they were able to record 15 repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) on August 26th, 2017. To record these, they had the help of the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.
The discovery itself was first announced as an Astronomer's Telegram and will be described in further detail in a forthcoming scientific article, according to a statement from Breakthrough Listen.
FRBs were first discovered about 15 years ago, and since then there have been roughly 2 dozen unique recordings of them. Usually, they are singular events. But, that changed in 2016. Scientists in the journal Nature announced that they had discovered a repeating radio signal, dubbed FRB 121102. Through consistent monitoring and tracking, they traced this repeating signal back to a dwarf galaxy roughly 3 billion light-years away. Although, the source itself hasn't been found...nothing known in that area of the universe could be producing these signals. At least, not that we know of. Unfortunately, FRBs typically only last a few milliseconds. They appear to come from deep space but because of their minuscule duration, its almost impossible to pinpoint their origin.
And now, there are more bursts coming from FRB 121102. The Breakthrough Listen team has detected over a dozen more bursts as of late August 2017. Vishal Gajjar, a postdoctoral researcher on the team found these new bursts while monitoring. Over 5 hours, the team was able to collect 400 terabytes of data over the 4 to 8 GHz frequency band, or C-band (which is mostly used for satellite communications transmissions).
Gajjar has 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,”
But, just because we don't know where they're coming from doesn't mean scientists aren't theorizing. In fact, a few explanations of FRBs have been brought up. For example, maybe they were caused by a cataclysmic event like a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. One problem with this theory is that an event like that would seemingly one create one burst, so the repeating of FRB 121102 wouldn't make sense and couldn't be accounted for.
Another idea is that they might be coming from a young and VERY magnetized neutron star...but none of those have been detected in that particular region of space.
But, for now, we are still searching.
The above image is not directly related to the story and is simply a view of the universe as provided by Hubble. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).