The universe has a lot of powerful and amazing stuff going on. One such thing is called fast radio burst or FRB. These radio signals are extremely fast, lasting about a millisecond and giving off as much energy as the sun does in a day.
Astronomers don’t know for sure what causes them, but some suggest that they could be caused by powerful explosions in far-off galaxies or by magnetars, the most magnetic stars known. But what if it wasn’t from any of those universal phenomenon?
So far, astronomers have picked up at least ten so-called fast radio bursts, with the latest one being detected last year by the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia. The others were found by sifting through data after the bursts had arrived at Earth. No one knows what causes them, but the brevity of the bursts means their source has to be small – hundreds of kilometres across at most – so they can’t be from ordinary stars. And they seem to come from far outside the galaxy.
But in a new study, scientists have found that these radio signals from space actually follow a specific pattern. The bursts come in intervals which are always multiples of one number — 187.5 — and they have calculated that there is only a 5 in 10,000 probability that this is coincidence.
Co-leader of the study, John Learned from the University of Hawaii, said: “If the pattern is real, it is very, very hard to explain.”
The researchers don’t exclude that the radio signals are coming from some secret spy satellite, disguising its transmissions as signals from deep space. But this is is far from certain. They believe that the emissions are either some unknown natural process or even a technologically-based signal from deep space by an alien civilization.
“These have been intriguing as an engineered signal, or evidence of extraterrestrial technology, since the first was discovered.” says Jill Tarter, former director of the SETI Institute in California. “I’m intrigued. Stay tuned.”
“Astronomers have long speculated that a mathematically clever message – broadcasts encoded with pi, or flashes that count out prime numbers, as sent by aliens in the film Contact – could give away aliens’ existence. Perhaps extraterrestrial civilizations are flagging us down with basic multiplication.” suggests the report.
The other leader of the study, Michael Hippke of the Institute for Data Analysis in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany said: “This will either be new physics, like a new kind of pulsar, or, in the end, if we can exclude everything else, an ET.”
NASA and various other official projects like SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute) have been sending radio broadcasts into outer space for decades, in the hope that they will be picked up by aliens. If we are doing it, why shouldn’t other intelligent beings in the universe be doing something similar?
Critics have also noted that the bursts require huge amounts of energy, and that a civilisation wanting to communicate across intergalactic space could do so far more easily if they stuck to a single frequency.
Anyway, this isn’t the first time we’ve received an interesting signal from space. In 1977, astronomer Jerry Ehman found the now famous “Wow! signal.” This powerful signal was picked up by the Big Ear Radio Observatory at Ohio State University — it was off the charts. However, it was never seen again. There is some belief that it was a human-made signal that was accidentally reflected off some space debris.
Note ~ Seth Shostak: “It’s always tempting to invoke dramatic explanations for novel phenomena – after all, that makes them both more interesting and more important. But history suggests that caution is a good idea, and more likely to be justified in the end.”