Astronomers from the University of British Columbia have detected a mysterious, powerful burst of radio energy from deep in space, but could it be a signal from intelligent life?
Astronomers have been pointing satellites into deep space for decades in an effort to detect radio signals that could have been sent from a distant world. Despite their efforts, however, researchers believe that they have only been able to capture a fraction of the radio pulses buzzing through space. That is, until now.
According to a report from Phys.org, researchers at the university of British Columbia have carried out a study using archived data from the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope which has shed new light on a bizarre phenomenon, Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, which were first detected roughly a decade ago.
FRBs are believed to originate from the outer reaches of the universe, but the ones that astronomers have detected so far reveal no evidence of their source. The new study suggests that in the best-recorded case, the FRB likely originated in a highly magnetized region in space. Researchers think that this magnetism and subsequent radio burst may have come from a supernova or a nebula that is currently active.
According to astronomer Kiyoshi Masui of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, “We know that the energy from this FRB passed through a dense, magnetized region shortly after it formed. This significantly narrows down the source’s environment and type of event that triggered the burst.”
FRBs last just a second, but they pack a powerful punch. These pulses travel in all directions throughout space, and only a minute fraction of them ever make it to Earth. The new event, named FRB 110523, was detected in the archived data by software that was developed by Masui and co-researcher Jonathan Sievers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.
The data gathered by the telescope was roughly 40 terabytes, so finding a discernable pattern posed a great challenge to the scientists. FRBs are also difficult to detect because of their tendency to “smear,” also known as dispersion delay. Based on the amount of smear, the researchers estimated that the FRB came from a point roughly 6 billion light-years away.
The discovery doesn’t signal the presence of intelligent life in the universe, however. Scientists have hoped to detect radio signals from extraterrestrial broadcast for years, but the recent finding was little more than a powerful natural phenomenon.
A press release from the University of British Columbia outlining the details of the study can be found here.