Technology

A Distant Galaxy’s Radio Bursts May Be Our Best Hope Of Finding Aliens

In 2007, astronomers Duncan Lorimer and David Narkovic discovered a strange phenomenon: A millisecond-long massive burst of energy from a single point in the galaxy, covering dozens of frequencies. It’s called a fast radio burst. or FRB. Since 2007, we’ve uncovered dozens of them. But the most recent burst to hit galactic airwaves is different: It’s an FRB that repeats.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, observed that FRB 121102, that is, a burst first observed November 2nd, 2012, has been repeating again, with more pulses than ever. That’s unusual in of itself; FRBs tend to pop once, and that’s it, at least in the ten years we’ve been hunting them. FRB 121102 emanates from a dwarf galaxy roughly 3 billion light years from Earth. Fifteen new pulses, this close together, is fascinating for a number of reasons. One, it rules out a “one-time event” (i.e. something blowing up or otherwise destroying itself) as the cause of the FRB. Two, whatever happened has happened across a span of years; remember, these radio waves have to travel across space to be picked up by our telescope. And three, whatever happened, happened consistently. For all our love of the idea of a clockwork universe, it’s difficult to come up with phenomena that have this pattern.

There’s a caveat here; three billion light years away means that whatever happened in that galaxy was going on when single-celled organisms were starting to evolve on Earth. Granted, the universe is estimated to be 13 billion years old, give or take a few million, so an alien species could have gotten a big head start on us. It could also be an unusual astronomical phenomenon, like a neutron star with a powerful magnetic field called a magnetar, that we haven’t pinpointed yet, or that burned out long ago. But something strange happened, an unimaginable distance away, and no matter what the answer, it’s guaranteed to be fascinating.

(via Forbes)

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