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Mysterious Radio Bursts From Space: Could it be Aliens?

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Jul 29, 2014 04:01 PM EDT
Arecibo Observatory
A very strong but incredibly brief radio wave burst was first detected in 2007 by astronomers in Australia. Now, researchers half-a-world away have detected a burst of the exact same signature, showing that the first mysterious blast was not an instrument malfunction. However, no one has any idea what is behind this phenomenon. (Photo : NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF)

A very strong but incredibly brief radio wave burst was first detected in 2007 by astronomers in Australia. Now, researchers half-a-world away have detected a burst of the exact same signature, showing that the first mysterious blast was not an instrument malfunction. However, no one has any idea what is behind this phenomenon.

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Of course, that doesn't stop experts from at least claiming they have a clue.

Victoria Kaspi, the principal investigator for the pulsar-survey project that detected this new radio burst using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, is particularly excited about this discovery.

"Our result is important because it eliminates any doubt that these radio bursts are truly of cosmic origin," she said in a recent release. "The radio waves show every sign of having come from far outside our galaxy - a really exciting prospect."

The radio burst, first identified by the Parkes Radio Telescope (PRT) in New South Wales, Austrailia seven years ago, was dubbed a "fast radio burst" (FRB) by the discovering team. Since then, the PRT has identified five other FRBs, but with no other facilities detecting these incredibly strong and unusual pulses, the scientific community was extremely skeptical of their existence.

"[That] all of the bursts up until now had been discovered by the Parkes telescope was a cause of concern," explained Laura Spitler, who found data on the Arecino FRB in 2012. "Now, with the discovery of a burst from Arecibo, we are more confident that FRBs are astrophysical phenomena, and discovering and classifying them should be a priority of radio astronomical observatories in the future."

A study detailing this discovery was published in the journal Science, and lists a number of tentative theories as to what could be causing the FRBs. One promising suggestion is that these are unusually powerful pulsars - fast spinning neutron stars that fire out radio signals from their poles.

Another popular theory, at least among the fun-loving, is aliens.

The search for extraterrestrial life (SETI) has long involved shouting at the cosmos with long-traveled radio messages, and then waiting for a response.

It's not utterly insane to at least consider that these FRBs could finally be a few responses. However, with no knowledge of even where the potential replies are coming from, we Earthlings might as well be trying to chat with the voices in our heads.

 

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