Strange radio wave flashes from far outside of our Milky Way galaxy (or in it) have scientists completely confused. Since 2001, telescopes have been picking up on what are referred to as fast radio bursts (FRBs). Only a total of ten have ever been detected, with the most recent one occurring just a few months ago. The bursts last just a few milliseconds and then explode with just as much energy as our Sun releases in a month, which is extremely huge, and again, very confusing and mysterious.
The burst of 2014 was the first one in history that was caught in action by the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. The others were found by examining data after the bursts had already arrived on Earth. Again, these bursts have astronomers very confused, as no one knows what causes them. What scientists do know is that their source most likely has to be small, because they occur in such a short span of time. They are also only approximately a few hundred kilometers across, so that rules out any stars as being the culprit.
It’s not only the fact that astronomers are completely clueless, but as a new scientist points out:
“The weird part is that they all fit a pattern that doesn’t match what we know about cosmic physics.”
Michael Hippke at the Institute for Data Analysis In Neukrichen-Vluyn, Germany, and John Learned at the Univeristy of Hawaii in Manoa, have not ruled out the possibility that these bursts come from somewhere within our galaxy. They determined this by calculating how far the bursts have travelled, a technique known as “the dispersion measure.”
“Each burst covers a range of radio frequencies, as if the whole FM band were playing the same song. But electrons in space scatter and delay the radiation, so that higher frequency waves make it across space faster than lower frequency waves. The more space the signal crosses, the bigger the difference, or dispersion measure, between the arrival time of high and low frequencies – and the further the signal has travelled.” (source)
(You can view the paper that was published on the most recent burst, in the list of sources at the end of the article)
As a result of their calculations, they believe that the source is much closer to home, from a group of objects within our Milky Way galaxy that are emitting shorter-frequency radio waves after higher-frequency radio waves.
It’s also interesting to note that all 10 of the detected bursts since 2001 have dispersion measures that are multiples of 187.5. This is both fascinating and unexplainable, and they are suggesting that this line-up of the dispersion implies five sources for the bursts that are all at regularly spaced distances from Earth.
According to their research, there is a 5 in 10,000 probability that this type of line-up is a coincidence, and that it is “very, very hard to explain.”
What could the sources of these signals heading towards Earth be? Are they some unidentified cosmic objects? Is it human, manmade technology? Or is the question not what, but who? If the natural explanations don’t seem to fit, the researchers have concluded in their paper that “an artificial source (human or non-human) must be considered.”
“These have been intriguing as an engineered signal, or evidence of extraterrestrial technology, since the first was discovered,” -Jill Tarter, former director of the SETI Institute in California. “I’m intrigued. Stay tuned.”
The search for extraterrestrial life continues to be a very hot topic, and the questions concerning “ET” are continuing to grow with the discovery of microbial life in space, as well as water – don’t forget about the discovery of many potential Earth-like planets. On top of that, we have a lot of evidence supporting the idea that intelligent extraterrestrial life has been visiting our planet for a very long time.