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15 mystery high-energy radio bursts detected


Posted on Thursday, 31 August, 2017 | Comment icon 18 comments

Are the bursts coming from a star, or something else ? Image Credit: Casey Reed - Penn State University
The unidentified radio pulses were picked up from an unknown source in a distant part of the universe.
First discovered last year at a distance of around three billion light years from the Earth, the source of these fast radio bursts, which has become known as FRB 121102, remains something of a mystery.

To date, more than 150 high-energy bursts have been picked up from it and now astronomers from the Breakthrough Listen initiative, which aims to listen out for evidence of intelligent extraterrestrials, have managed to detect a further 15.

What makes FRB 121102 particularly interesting is that, unlike other sources of fast radio bursts, this is the only one known to repeat.

"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," said postdoctoral researcher Vishal Gajjar.

There are a few possible explanations for the phenomenon, but the one that has captured the most attention suggests that these powerful radio bursts could be artificially generated.

The idea is not as insane as it sounds given that Breakthrough Starshot, a project designed to send miniature light-sail spacecraft to other solar systems, is planning to use powerful lasers to 'push' the probes up to around 20% of the speed of light.

If a more advanced civilization happened to be doing something similar on a much larger scale, there's a chance (albeit a very small one) that we could see those bursts of energy from across the cosmos.

"Whether or not fast radio bursts turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the universe around us," said Berkeley SETI Research Center director Andrew Siemion.

Source: Berkeley | Comments (18)

Tags: Radio Bursts, Extraterrestrial

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by seanjo on 1 September, 2017, 14:37
Maybe so, but the source was in the past, and if it was life that was the source, they are probably long dead.
Comment icon #10 Posted by bison on 1 September, 2017, 17:05
We're reportedly seeing something that happened about 3 billion years ago, in these fast radio bursts. If we were to posit an intelligent cause, the civilization that was responsible might no longer exist. Still, it may be that the more advanced a civilization, the longer it is able to exist.  For example, the ability to detect and deflect asteroids that were headed their way could eliminate a very serious long-term threat.  Even at our present state of civilization, we can detect many near-Earth asteroids in advance, and have begun to consider how they could be diverted.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Occams Razor on 5 October, 2017, 0:00
I think the idea put forward by some senior scientists that these fast radio bursts are being used by intelligent ETs to push starships with huge 'solar sails' along is a bit far-fetched. At least I hope it is because there would be nothing to push them back home again, it would be a one way trip. And if the target planet is already occupied what happens then?
Comment icon #12 Posted by bison on 5 October, 2017, 3:22
Well, once they arrive somewhere, they could set up another transmitter, and have it push them back home, couldn't they? I see that this particular radio source, FRB 121102, has received and will continue to receive a good deal of attention, at the Greenbank (radio astronomy) Observatory. It was observed, on Sept. 25th and 27th, and will be again, on Oct. 24th, 25th, and 31st, and Nov. 1st.  An interesting audio analysis of these radio bursts has been made. Quite intriguing how the slowed-down audio seems to descend in discrete, even steps  Please find a link to a recording of this, and explan... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by Occams Razor on 5 October, 2017, 12:32
Maybe, but if the device could be carried by the starship wouldn't it be more efficient to just install it on the ship and use it as the propulsion system. Though I believe these FRBs have enormous amounts of energy so maybe a generator of these bursts would have to be installed on a planet. I think I heard or read somewhere that we have no idea how to generate anywhere near that much radio energy. Thanks for the link to the FRB audio files... very interesting sound. It may just be the sound of the universe creating space and time to expand into.
Comment icon #14 Posted by bison on 5 October, 2017, 16:24
A space vessel might not be able to withstand the huge energy of the FRB transmitter at very close range. This could prevent it being placed aboard ship. In any case, this is only one, highly speculative, explanation for FRBs. The sounds of the FRB, which are only discernible as separate tones when greatly slowed down, are very mysterious. I haven't heard any suggestion of what sort of astrophysical process could create such impulses.  The impulses in the recording were emitted over a very short period of time. This seems to indicate that they are the internal structure of a single Fast Radio ... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by Occams Razor on 6 October, 2017, 0:07
Again, maybe. But it would need far less power to push the ship along if it was on board. You could listen to any radio transmission that contained information and slow it down so it sounded unusual. Especially some of the digital transmission modes. What makes me think the FRBs are some kind of natural phenomenon is they're wide band, they have a wide bandwidth. If they had a narrow bandwidth and had some modulation, some kind of structured information in them we would know for sure they were synthetic signals produced by some kind of device for sure and certain, even if we couldn't decode th... [More]
Comment icon #16 Posted by bison on 6 October, 2017, 2:38
I'm not at all certain that, in this sort of propulsion system, it would help much to have to the transmitter aboard ship. As long as the action-reaction principle applies, but mass is not being ejected by the vessel, the beam must press against something like a planet, in order to push itself along. The inefficiency due to the dispersion of the beam would be almost as bad, it seems, if it went from ship to planet, rather than planet to ship. What impressed me about the audio analysis of the FRB impulse was the regularity and orderliness of the descending, discrete tones. It's just conceivable... [More]
Comment icon #17 Posted by Occams Razor on 6 October, 2017, 4:26
I was thinking more along the lines of a fan on a sailing boat blowing against the sail and blowing the boat along, as demonstrated on the TV series 'Mythbusters'. But I haven't given it a great deal of thought as I don't think that's what these FRBs are doing. I think if we were looking at an information dense signal the boffins would be able to tell that was the case. They would be able to analyse a sample and be able to determine fairly quickly if the signal contained artificially structured modulated information or not.
Comment icon #18 Posted by bison on 6 October, 2017, 14:47
It's still very 'early days' where FRBs are concerned, particularly with this lone, repeating one, FRB 121102. The slowed down impulses revealed something very odd and orderly seeming. This could be the start of the sort of analysis to which you refer. Further slowing, if practical, is indicated in order to resolve the question about the pulses containing complex, intelligent information. 


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