Astronomers are bamboozled by five mysterious unidentified radio signals outside the Milky Way, leading some researchers to speculate that they may be a message from an alien civilization.
A fast radio burst, otherwise known as an FRB, is an astrophysical phenomenon in which high energy manifests as a transient radio pulse lasting for a few split seconds. Only 11 unidentified FRBs have been recorded around the world. They are short-lived and occur sporadically, which make them hard to detect and even harder to study.
The most recent FRBs included one “double signal” never heard before. Four signals followed the double blast, which astronomers are equally bewildered about. FRBs were discovered in 2007, with astronomers detecting one for the first time in 2014. Until recently, however, a double blast had never been discovered.(1)
A potentially unprecedented discovery
The recent discovery is being compared to the “Wow! signal” in 1977, when Jerry R. Ehman detected a strong narrow radio signal. The radio burst had the telltale marks of a non-terrestrial origin, but has not been detected since.
Emily Petroff from Swinburne University in Melbourne, a member of the team who discovered the signal, reports the signal could be more significant than anything detected before it. The source still remains a mystery. “We have no idea what’s going on, but we know it’s definitely something cool,” she tweeted.(1)
The discovery of the five signals was announced in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. No one is aware of what could have produced such short-lived and acute signals. Consequently, astronomers are left fumbling in the dark about what the FRBs could be. Some experts suggest they could have originated from stars colliding, whereas others suggest the signal is an artificially created message.
The researchers claim the double blast, dubbed 121002, had a “clear two-component profile.” Each component mirrors the population of a single component FRBs and they were separated by 2.4 milliseconds. The blasts originated 7 billion light years beyond the Milky Way.(1)
“Many of the proposed models to explain FRBs use a single high energy event involving compact objects (such as neutron star mergers) and therefore cannot easily explain a two-component FRB,” explained the researchers.
Taking discoveries to heart and with a pinch of salt
It’s important not to let excitement cloud one’s judgment in the wake of the recent signals. Back in October, for instance, astronomers detected a star entombed by a mysterious blizzard of objects, which led one researcher to speculate that it might be the development of a huge alien structure known as a Dyson Sphere.
A Dyson Sphere is a giant hypothetical shell, which wraps around a star and extrapolates solar energy. The possibility that astronomers may have detected a Dyson Sphere in our neck of the woods triggered excitement among geeks and sci-fi enthusiasts around the globe. After a thorough search, however, scientists involved in the study came up empty-handed.(2)
“The history of astronomy tells us that every time we thought we had found a phenomenon due to the activities of extraterrestrials, we were wrong,” said SETI astronomer Seth Shostak in response to the study.
“But although it’s quite likely that this star’s strange behavior is due to nature, not aliens, it’s only prudent to check things out.”(2)
The shortcomings of naturalistic explanations
Natural explanations pertaining to the origins of FRB 121002 involve the evaporation of a black hole, the pulsation of giant pulsars and the collapse of a large star. Nevertheless, the researchers report it is difficult to contrive a naturalistic theory that accounts for the double blast, which suggests it might be rooted in a deliberate intelligence.
Nigel Watson, author of the UFO Investigations Manual, reports: “Every unusual signal from outer space encourages us to wonder if it is from an alien civilisation.
“It would be fantastic if this is an alien signal as the knowledge that we are not alone in this vast universe would have a dramatic impact on our perception of our place in the scheme of things.
“It would certainly give the opportunity for UFO spotters to say we told you aliens exist and take an interest in our activities, and you didn’t believe us.”
Further investigation is needed into the origins and nature of the blasts. As of right now, there is no leading theory about where the FRBs came from.