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Repeated radio signals coming from the same distant galaxy detected

Some believe the signal could be evidence of incredibly advanced alien technology

Photo: Jingchuan Yu, Beijing Planetarium

A telescope in Canada has detected a very unusual repeating signal – called Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) – from a galaxy 1.5 billion light years away.

Such repeating signal have only been picked up once before, by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2015.

Only one out of 13 FRBs detected in a span of three weeks recently was repeating.

The new discovery, reported in the journal Nature, was made by a Canadian-led team of astronomers.

The team detected 13 FRBs using a new type of radio telescope, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME).

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope detected the fast radio bursts

Among the 13 FRBs, only one was repeating.

CHIME astrophysicist Dr Ingrid Stairs, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, said: “Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB.”

“Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there. And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles – where they’re from and what causes them.’

What are Fast Radio Bursts (FRB)?

Fast radio waves, also known as fast radio bursts or FRBs, are short random and temporary bursts of radio waves coming from far outside our Milky Way galaxy.

This is what an FRB sounds like:

FRBs are extremely hard to find. The bursts only last for a milisecond but they are flung out with the same amount of energy the sun takes 12 months to produce.

Some researchers have suggested that FRBs could be generated by advanced alien civilizations, though most scientists allude it to natural causes such as colliding neutron stars.

Evidence so far have been inconclusive.

FRBs may give us answers to how the universe was created

The study of FRBs allows us to understand the structure of matter in the universe and perhaps the origins and evolution of the universe.

“FRBs are exciting because they’re explosive and that’s all great, but if you think about it, that’s not really the reason we’re excited about them,” said Sarah Burke-Spolaor, an astronomer at West Virginia University who studies FRBs.

“The ultimate reason we want to detect and study them is they’re so good at telling us about the fluff between them and us. Any time they propagate and travel through the fluff between galaxies, that fluff affects the radio bursts, and we can detect the effect down here.”

– Sarah Burke-Spolaor, astronomer

Here’s a slightly dramatic animation of how FRBs travel through space to Earth:

Alien technology or natural causes?

Professor Avi Loeb, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US, believes that FRBs could be evidence of incredibly advanced alien technology.

In 2017, Professor Loeb and Harvard colleague Manasvi Lingham proposed that FRBs could be leakage an alien civilisation travelling through space in a solar-powered alienship (light sail) or what the theorists called an “interstellar ark”.

A light sail works by bouncing light, or in this case radio beams, off a huge reflective sheet to provide forward thrust.

Professor Loeb said: “An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.”

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