Scientists recently discovered several new repeating radio signals making their way to Earth from different locations in the universe, and no one knows yet what is causing them.
Eight new repeating fast radio burst (FRB) sources have been discovered using the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope, and the findings were published in a report on Arxiv earlier this month.
Scientists believe one of these repeating signals could be coming from relatively nearby, perhaps just beyond the Milky Way, but their report cautions that more research needs to be done to be certain.
FRBs are very short bursts of radio waves — they only last for a few milliseconds — and they originate from beyond the Milky Way galaxy.
Nobody knows what causes these FRBs and where exactly they come from, but because the blasts are so intense, scientists believe they are likely coming from some sort of extreme cosmic event. In terms of what those events could be, the possibilities are somewhat endless, ranging from a star being sucked into a black hole to aliens attempting to contact us from some distant point in space.
Single FRBs are hard to study and locate because they are so brief, which is why finding repeating FRBs is a pretty big deal. The new discovery of eight of them is massive because only two had been confirmed prior.
“The repetition tells you something about the cause of these radio flashes. Obviously, you can’t expect that colliding black holes or neutron stars are going to return to their corners and collide again a few days later,” says Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. “Whatever is responsible for this series of bursts has to be an ongoing phenomenon.”
The more repeating FRBs that scientists find, the easier it is to learn about these phenomena.The discovery of their existence was very recent — the first repeating FRB was discovered by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in November 2012. Called FRB 121102, this particular repeating FRB is coming from a small dwarf galaxy many dozens of times smaller than the Milky Way that is approximately three billion light-years away.
“FRB 121102 is more than merely far, far away and long, long ago,” Shostak explains. “It’s more powerful than nearly anything you can name. Indeed, if you assume that energy from the burst is radiated in all directions, then in an eyeblink this object let loose about as much energy as the Sun pumps out in a year. Or if that doesn’t impress you, it’s enough energy to run humanity (at its present, prodigious burn rate) for 10 trillion years.”