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Something is blasting out a mysterious signal from deep space

Published Feb 10th, 2020 10:57AM EST
radio signal in space

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Of all the mysteries of outer space, fast radio bursts (or FRBs for short) are some of the most interesting. These incredibly powerful signals are carried over huge distances and every once in awhile scientists on Earth are able to hear them. Once we pick up on them, we can sometimes pinpoint a spot in the sky from which they originate, but the cause of the bursts remains a mystery.

Most FRBs are one-time deals, and we never hear from them again. Only the rarest ones are heard more than once, and we’ve never heard an FRB that repeats on a regular basis… until now.

As ScienceAlert reports, a new fast radio burst has been detected that seems to be on an incredibly regular cycle. This is a totally new development in the study of FRBs, and it’s an exciting discovery for astronomers and the topic of a new research paper.

The signal, which carries the label FRB 180916.J0158+65, pops up every 16.35 days. Once active, the blasts of radio energy reaching Earth lasts around four days, with the signal fading in and out at random. Then, for the following 12 days, the signal dies off completely before restarting again at its usual time.

But what is causing it? It’s easy to let your imagination wander and dream up a distance alien civilization sending out a signal in the hopes of finding intelligent life, but that’s almost certainly not the case. More realistically, the intense blasts of energy are the result of pulsar or black hole activity, and the blasts are appearing regularly because of the way the stars or other objects in the vicinity regularly block its flow outward from a central point.

Whatever the case, astronomers will continue to observe the radio bursts and monitor them for changes in intensity as well as to see if the regular schedule changes.