Alien contact? Mysteriously repeating radio signals captured by Canadian telescope

Mayotte Island and the seismic activity

Astronomers are more than a little excited with the second ever detection of a repeating fast radio burst in deep space.

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment during construction of the parabolic trough reflector at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, Canada. Some have proposed explanations, such as energy being flung as black holes tear stars apart, or perhaps even distant alien civilizations sending out long-range signals in the hopes of finding intelligent life.

The first radio burst, deemed FRB 121102, was discovered in 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescope, and it was revealed in 2018 that the bursts release an enormous amount of energy. Other bursts could be emitted at lower frequencies, but if this were the case, our current telescopes would not be able to detect them (400 megahertz is the limit). Before they were spotted over the summer, astronomers reportedly found between 50 and 60 examples of the radio bursts.

The repeater burst comes as part of a series of 13 new fast radio bursts found by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) collaborators.

The pre-commissioning phase meant that the telescope wasn't running at its fullest capacity.

While most previous FRBs had been recorded at frequencies around 1400MHz, these new bursts were collected at between 800MHz and 400MHz-the lowest frequency CHIME can detect.

Over time, Stairs says researchers will hopefully be able to develop a "clearer picture" that could lead to figuring out what exactly is producing these radio waves. The latest burst of signals were recorded at a frequency of 400 megahertz, whereas the first burst was recorded at a higher frequency of 700 megahertz. With CHIME, this concept for telescope design comes of age and is being used for breakthrough science to detect FRBs.

This breakthrough is now for the second where the scientists are observing such a radio blast again. It's easier, therefore, to measure and understand these effects at lower frequencies.

"We don't see these kinds of structures from other fast radio bursts that are in a single burst", said Tendulkar.

As for the new repeater, it's called FRB 180814.J0422+73. Recorded 13 times, they're originating from 1.5 billion light years away from Earth.

Cornell University's Shami Chatterjee, a fellow FRB researcher, agreed: "This field is about to break wide open".

"CHIME is still in its early days and most of the exciting results are yet to come", Smith said. "I look forward to the day when we have hundreds of repeaters".

There are some theories as to what is behind the repeating burst, and Stairs says there's no shortage of explanations. That tells us something about the environments and the sources.

An artist impression of the outer casing of a neutron star.

As explained above, FRBs remain a largely unexplained phenomenon, and astronomers appear no closer to deciphering it.

The goal: learn more about the powerful signals and where they come from.

"The fact that the bursts are repeated rules out any cataclysmic models in which the source is destroyed while generating the burst", he added.

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