At the end of last week, astronomers searching for possible signs of extraterrestrial life within 5 hours identified 15 very fast radio signals coming to us from a tiny galaxy 3 billion light-years from us. Earlier we already caught radio signals from this galaxy, but this time the scientists were surprised by the frequency of these fast radio pulses, so to determine their possible source, researchers turned to other groups of specialists for help.
"Impulses from this source have never had such a high frequency," says Andrew Simion, head of the breakthrough Listen search group, based at the University of California, where these signals were found. The group's goal is to find evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe.
You can see below 14 out of 15 fast radio pulses throughout the spectrum.
Scientists are interested in these fast radio pulses because they are one of the most unusual phenomena with enormous power. Analysis shows that pulses can generate 500 million Suns in milliseconds, but we still do not understand very well what exactly causes them and where they come from.
And yet, before you immediately think of the aliens, note that scientists tend to be more astronomical in nature of these signals, but they can not tell exactly what exactly creates them.
According to one of the most popular hypotheses, these repeating signals are created by a high-energy phenomenon called magnetars – the type of neutron stars surrounded by dense energy material. Signals can also be created by young neutron stars, emitting radio pulses during rotation. And yes, the variant with aliens scientists was also discussed. Earlier this year, a team of Harvard researchers suggested that these powerful radio bursts can be used as a power source for aliens' spaceships.
The excitement in their study adds to the fact that since the first discovery of these signals in 2007, scientists have been able to confirm only a small number of such events. And all these signals seemed to go to our side from different parts of the universe. But everything changed in 2015, when the researchers confirmed repeated radio pulses coming from the same place – FRB 121102 (as a result of which all these pulses received the same name). At the moment this is the only source of repeated radio signals detected.
Scientists have established that no matter what these repeating radio bursts produced, it is located in a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth. But in spite of the fact that more than 150 similar signals from FRB 121102 have been detected so far, we have not yet come close to unraveling their real source. That is why receiving 15 new fast radio pulses that came from the same place within a few hours was very surprising and interested scientists.
The last signals were received early Saturday morning, August 26, by the Green Bank radio telescope located in West Virginia (USA) and directed towards FRB 121102. Over a period of about 5 hours, the instrument recorded 400 terabytes of data, scanning the entire frequency range from 4 Up to 8 GHz. When the researchers of the Breakthrough Listen project analyzed this data, they were quite surprised to see not one but 15 clearly visible radio pulses. For comparison: in 2016, astronomers took about 83 hours for a period of 6 months to determine just 9 pulses of FRB 121102.
After analyzing their variance (which allows us to determine how long the signals went before us), scientists were able to confirm that all signals originate from the same place. The signals were not only very fast, but also had a much higher frequency level than the previously observed signals. The peak of their power was at a frequency of about 7 GHz.
"These observations may indicate that the source of FRB 121102 is now in a very active state, and subsequent observations only confirm this assumption, especially at higher radio frequencies," the team of astronomers reported on its Telegram channel in Monday.
"We not only confirmed the new highly active state of the source of these impulses. The fact is that the tool used by the Listen project allows to measure the properties of these mysterious impulses with higher accuracy than ever before, "Vishal Ghajar, the first who determined the increased activity of FRB 121102, stated the researcher Breakthrough Listen.
"The outstanding capabilities of the received signal receiver, capable of recording immediately in several gigahertz frequencies, allows us to divide the signals into several billion separate channels, which in turn allows us to take a fresh look at the frequency spectrum of the pulses and, in the future, More light on the process giving rise to these FRB-emissions. "
So what do the latest data tell us about the probable nature of these impulses? A large sequence of these signals makes it unlikely that the impulses can be created by some cataclysmic events such as the collapse of black holes. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility that these dramatic phenomena can not produce occasional radio bursts, but here the repeating ones are likely not.
As for the "extraterrestrial" version, before we resort to it, we must first, absolutely accurately, sort out all possible natural astronomical events that can cause such phenomena. But the amount of data that scientists have at their disposal does not yet allow them to do so. In addition, as indicated in the Breakthrough Listen, when these impulses were sent, our solar system was only less than 2 billion years old. That is, it happened almost a billion years before even the simplest molecular life appeared on the Earth and began to develop. It is unlikely that it could be of interest and purpose for a likely highly developed addressee of such communications.
Whatever created these radio pulses, the last observations, let's hope, will allow us to approach one step closer to understanding what is really behind them.
"Whether or not these fast radio pulses are signatures of extraterrestrial alien technologies, the Breakthrough Listen project helps to move the boundaries of our understanding of the surrounding Universe," notes Simion.