Published: Thu, January 10, 2019
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Repeating fast radio bursts from deep space 'could be aliens'

Repeating fast radio bursts from deep space 'could be aliens'

A fast radio burst lasts only a few milliseconds; due to both the very brief appearance and the inability to predict where they will happen, it has proven very hard for astronomers to study the FRBs.

The fast radio bursts suggest there could be more out there, researchers say.

A Canadian-led team of astronomers has observed unusual repeating radio waves coming from deep space for just the second time ever.

Until now, only one FRB - which was labeled FRB 112102 - was found to repeat itself later on. Astronomers have grappled with this mystery for years because, while they continue to observe bursts, they are still unsure of what causes them.

"Knowing that there is another [FRB] suggests that there could be more out there". Additional bursts from the repeating FRB were detected in following weeks by the telescope, which is located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley.

Having two sets of repeating bursts could also allow scientists to understand what distinguishes them from single bursts, helping them understand more about their source and watch for future blasts.

A telescope in Canada picked up mysterious signals emanating from a distant galaxy.

The first repeated burst was discovered by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2015. Some scientists had anxious that the range of frequencies it can pick up would be too low for it to receive the FRBs - but it found far more than expected, and scientists expect it to identify even more.

The fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-long flashes of radio waves of unknown origin, and scientists have formulated several different theories as to how they might be generated. Most of the bursts that scientists detect come from a spot in space that never produces another such signal.

"We're very excited to see what CHIME can do when it's running at full capacity", said Deborah Good, a UBC PhD student in physics and astronomy who is working on CHIME.

In all the researchers spotted some 13 of the bursts in just a three week period, offering a vast new trove of data for the scientists hunting for their source. "This tells us more about the properties of repeaters as a population", said Shriharsh Tendulkar of McGill University, Canada.

"[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", he said.

The majority of the 13 FRBs detected showed signs of "scattering", a phenomenon that reveals information about the environment surrounding a source of radio waves.

Team member Dr Cherry Ng, from the University of Toronto, said: "That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova [exploding star] remnant".

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