Is Space Calling?

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

The phrase “ET phone home” immediately comes to mind for this article as for only the second time ever, scientists have detected a mysterious repeating radio signal from distant space. Its origin? Unknown.

A Canadian research team announced the discovery, which seems like something straight out of The X-Files, in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The radio burst repeated its signal six times and was detected among thirteen other so-called Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, in July and August of last year. The report states:

“These repeat bursts are consistent with originating from a single position on the sky, with the same dispersion measure.”

Only a few dozen FRBs, which last around a millisecond, have been detected since their discovery in 2007. Repeating FRBs are even more rare, with the first detected in 2007 following a review of telescope data that had been collected in 2001. That repeater, however, only repeated its signal once.

So is this evidence that ‘they’ are out there? Scientists are not ruling it out. Some scientists suspect that these radio waves originate from black hole activity or solar flares that travel from billions o flight-years away. Others, though, say that this could be evidence of advanced alien technology. Dustin Lang, a computational scientist with Ontario’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics explained in the video:

“We have more ideas of what they could be than we have actual detected fast radio bursts.”

Fortunately, the truth may be just over the horizon as researchers expect to know more about FRBs than previously expected due to technological advancements. In particular, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope will aid further research as it is touted as one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world.

Within weeks of the activation of CHIME’s FRB-detecting software being activated last summer, the telescope detected thirteen new bursts. This number is extremely impressive when considering that previous to this, only fifty FRBs had ever been observed by humans.

This high rate of discovery suggests that FRBs may not be as unique as we think. Perimeter Institute faculty member Kendrick Smith explained in the video:

“So what we’ve shown is that by discovering a second FRB is that the repeating FRB is not unique and maybe we can hope to find more.”

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer and director of the Center for SETI Research, a nonprofit based in California that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence, hopes to learn of the FRBs’ origin. He reasoned:

“These things belch out tens of millions of times as much energy as the sun would belch out in a similar length of time, so whatever it is, it is something very, very powerful.

“It could be colliding black holes but you don’t expect black holes to collide and then an hour later collide again, and then after that to collide again, right? So it’s got to be something that can repeat.” (Huffington Post)

Whether these FRBs are randomly generated from cosmic events like black holes or purposeful signals from an alien civilisation, the fact that we are now able to detect them and perhaps even trace them is a phenomenal advancement in understanding what is ‘out there’. One thing is for sure, Mulder would be having a field day right now.

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