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Scientists just detected another repeating radio signal in deep space

Published Jan 9th, 2019 7:06PM EST
fast radio burst
Image: NASA

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As technology improves and instruments used to study the cosmos become more and more advanced, we’re answering a lot of questions about our place in the universe, but we’re also coming up with entirely new ones.

One of the most mysterious phenomena that scientist have observed are called fast radio bursts (FRBs), which are brief blasts of energy detected by radio telescopes and seem to be coming from far-away locations in space that we can’t even see. Now, a new FRB is getting some serious attention for a very specific reason.

The most important thing to understand about FRBs is that they’re almost always a singular event. Most of the bursts that scientists detect come from a spot in space that never produces another such signal. One FRB in particular, FRB 121102, is special because it’s the only one that seems to be repeating its signal blasts on a regular basis.

Or, more accurately, it was the only one. A new radio burst called FRB 180814.J0422+73 is now the second location in the sky to produce repeating radio bursts. Researchers have traced the signal to a specific location: a galaxy some 3 billion light years away.

The signal was detected by CHIME radio telescope in Canada, which managed to confirm six of the repeating bursts coming from the same location.

We still don’t know what’s create this or any other fast radio burst, which only adds to the mystery. Some have proposed explanations, such as energy being flung as black holes tear stars apart, or perhaps even distant alien civilizations sending out long-range signals in the hopes of finding intelligent life.

At distances of billions of light years it’s obviously very difficult to test any of these theories, but detecting more FRBs, especially those that have a habit of repeating, could bring us closer to an explanation.

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