Mysterious radio signals from deep space detected

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Scientists around the world are abuzz at the news that a radio telescope in Canada has detected a slew of high-energy astronomical phenomena known as fast radio bursts (FRBs).

More than 60 FRBs have been observed to date, but this is only the second time researchers have found repeating bursts from a single source.

That one was spotted by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2015.

While millisecond long radio flashes aren't rare in space, this is the second one that has repeated itself.

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Scientists say they do not know what causes the pulses or where they come from, but it is fueling speculation that humans are not alone. CHIME scans the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere every day and is expected to pick up dozens of FRBs per month when operating at full capacity.

The first FRB was discovered in 2007, although it was actually observed some six years earlier, in archival data from a pulsar survey of the Magellanic Clouds. And when there are increased sources and more repeaters for the goal of conducting a study, the cosmic puzzles would become easier for them to have better understanding and it would then be clear that what the actual source of those blasts was.

The signals - known as fast radio bursts (FRBs) - have been speculated to be coming from neutron stars merging or even aliens.

"[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth", he said.

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"Look! We see FRBs", said Deborah Good, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia in Canada, while addressing a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington, on 7 January. Current technology allows us to understand these events, but space still holds many some surprises: fast radio bursts (or bursts) as example. "Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there", University of British Columbia astrophysicist, Ingrid Stairs, said in a statement.

As for the new repeater, it's called FRB 180814.J0422+73. This remarkable observation could help scientists to better understand this phenomenon and where these bursts originate in the universe. It would be helpful to figure out the nature and cause of this persistent source in the first repeater, "since it will likely shed light on the central engine of the FRB emission", he said.

But, from whatever little data exists, most scientists do not believe that FRBs are attempts by aliens to contact us. "We would also like to study the properties of whole populations of FRBs and try to see if there are different sources that give rise to repeaters and non-repeaters".

At distances of billions of light years it's obviously very hard to test any of these theories, but detecting more FRBs, especially those that have a habit of repeating, could bring us closer to an explanation. "So explaining their nature has become one of the biggest unsolved problems in astrophysics in the last few years".

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