Chinese astronomers have detected a hundred fast radio bursts (FRB’s) coming from outer space. The mysterious signals are believed to come from an unknown source some 3 billion light-years from Earth. Their exact origin remains a mystery, and astronomers have absolutely no idea what causes these extremely powerful, yet short signals.
The enigmatic alien signals were spotted with FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope), the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built. The mystery signals are now being checked and processed carefully, as explained by researchers at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).
Fast Radio Bursts are the brightest bursts known in the universe. They are called ‘fast’ because these flashes are very short, only several milliseconds long. But there is no reasonable explanation for their origin.
Their source could be a perfectly explainable one, like stars, supernovae, or gas streams from a nearby supermassive black hole. But they may also be something far more elusive and may be indicative of intelligent alien life in the universe.
The truth is, we don’t know what they are, why they are, and where exactly they come from.
However, detecting repeated bursts could help shed light on the origin and physical mechanisms of FRBs, the researchers said in a statement.
Chinese scientists have installed a highly sensitive device called the L-band 19-beam receiver (with FWHM of ~2.95′ for individual beam) in order to spot various FRBs. Using the new apparatus, the Chinese scientists then targeted an FRB source called FRB121102, which was first discovered by the Arecibo Observatory in 2015.
According to a statement from NAOC: “The bursts were firstly identified by the FAST FRB backend on August 29th (UT), which performs real-time signal processing of 19-beam data and automatic candidate selection/triggering.”
“The subsequent single-pulse search using multiple pipelines have turned up many tens of pulses with significant SNR in observations carried out so far, from 29thAug to 3rdSep(UT). The total number of bursts detected from FRB121102 this time is known to be the highest by far. Careful cross-check and further processing are being carried out.”
From the end of August to the beginning of September, more than 100 bursts were detected in FRB121102, the largest number of bursts detected so far.
As noted by the researchers, FAST’s FRB backend system features a high-efficiency real-time pulse capture capability which means it can observe in parallel with most observation tasks.
The project will play an important role in the discovery of new FRBs, improving the position accuracy and capturing the high-resolution absorption lines generated by FRB in real-time, the researchers explained.
The very first Fast Radio Burst was detected back in 2001 but was not discovered until 2007 when scientists were analyzing archival data. The detection was so surprising and seemingly random that it took several years for astronomers to finally conclude what they had spotted was not some sort of a glitch in the telescope’s instruments.
Today, FRBs are some of the most mysterious discoveries in the universe.