For the first time, scientists have successfully traced mysterious “fast radio bursts” (FRBs), which have been speculated to be signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, to a galaxy six billion light years away.
Just 17 such radio blasts have been recorded since 2007 when they were first discovered. Each one came from space and lasted a few milliseconds at the most, emitting as much energy as the Sun in about 10,000 years.
© Swinburne University of Technology
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Scientists are not sure what causes these bursts. The first step in establishing their origin was to estimate the distance to the object where it originated.
Astronomer Evan Keane from the UK’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, who led the scientific team that published the new findings in the journal Nature, was able to record one of the most recent radio burst called FRB 150418 on April 18, 2015 with the help of the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. It lasted less than one millisecond, the shortest of them all.
The process of pinpointing its location was long. First Australia’s telescope located the radio afterglow in space and then a second 8.2-meter-long telescope in Hawaii, known as the Subaru Telescope, helped trace the origin of the wave to an elliptical galaxy, which is an off-spherical concentration of stars believed to be relatively old.
Some have speculated that the bursts could be a signal sent by extraterrestrial intelligence. “Nope! Sorry,” Keane said in response to this theory, as quoted by AFP.
The radio waves most likely originate from two colliding neutron stars, which at some point were orbiting each other before merging, according to Keane. Due to the composition of the galaxy, it is more likely that a collision of two dead stars caused the radio bursts, rather than the explosion of a supernova, astronomers say.