Is ET really? Mysterious radio blast from a far away galaxy to the attention of alien hunters

An artist’s impression of the Greenbank Telescope in West Virginia signals of the fast radio burst FRB 121102. The object was observed by the Breakthrough Listening project.

(Danielle Futselaar/UC Berkeley)

Repeated bursts of radio waves originating from a distant dwarf galaxy is likely not the signals of an alien civilization, but that hasn’t stopped a group of E. T. hunters of the investigation of this peculiar phenomenon.

In August, the scientists, with the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative began the perception of an object is known as FRB 121102. The object is one of the fewer than 40 known examples of a fast radio burst (FRB), an incredibly bright flash of radio waves. Scientists do not yet know what the cause of FRBs, which is why they took a particular interest in FRB 121102. While all the other observed FRBs are some explosions of radio waves, this was the release of bright flashes of light over and over again.

A new study, co-authored by scientists with a Breakthrough Listening, it turns out that the conclusions of that August comments: almost 100 percent of the light of FRB 121102 is polarised, which means that the orientation of the light waves are all in the same direction. The most radiating objects in the universe produce polarized light, so that the uniformity of the light of FRB 121102 could help scientists limit the type of the object or the environment that can be producing those flashes. (Read our full story here.)

“As far as the FRB121102 goes, I don’t think there is a small chance that [pulses] are from an alien intelligence,” Vishal Gajjar, a scientist with the Breakthrough Listening, said yesterday (Jan. 10) during a press conference at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D. C.

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The primary reason for Gajjar the skepticism is that the object is in a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth. A civilization that wants to contact with another civilization will probably not bother to create a powerful signal, simply because the time it would take to get a response it would be terribly long. For example, the radio waves of FRB 121102 took 3 billion years to reach Earth, the civilization that sent the message could very well have died by the time that it received a reply!

But Gajjar said Breakthrough Listening is also interested in investigating unexplained phenomenon in the universe, even if these phenomena are naturally occurring.

Polarized light

An explanation for the polarized light of FRB 121102 may be the presence of a very strong magnetic field, according to a statement from the University of California, Berkeley, where the Breakthrough Listening laboratory is based. The only known place in the universe with such strong magnetic fields in the vicinity of a massive black hole — such as the extreme blackholes thought to lie in the centres of most galaxies, gas and dust falling in it, according to the statement. The authors of the paper assume that the source of the radio waves can be another highly magnetized object, known as a magnetar, that is located in the vicinity of a massive black hole. A magnetar is a type of neutron star, an incredibly dense nugget of material about the size of a city, that forms when a massive star runs out of fuel and collapses.

If this is, in fact, the source of FRB 121102, Gajjar said: that is another reason to suspect that the signal is natural, not artificial: An environment with such an extreme magnetic field would not be very habitable due to the extreme conditions would make, he told in a recent interview.

The polarization of the light of FRB 121102 was also observed by a group of scientists using the William E. Gordon Telescope at the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico. Breakthrough Listen used the Greenbank Radio Telescope in West Virginia, in combination with a massive computing system, which consists of 32 computing nodes, which in 1 gigabyte of data per second. In an hour, that adds up to the equivalent of 18,000 Dvds, Gajjar said at the press conference.

The enormous computing backend allows researchers to capture a wide range of radio frequencies at the same time, providing a more complete picture of the irregular pulses coming from FRB 121102.

The Breakthrough researchers observed the FRB in some of the higher-frequency radio waves emitted by the FRB, where they are pulses of light that lasted between 0.00003 and 0.009 seconds. These incredibly short pulses can be used to indicate the size of the object emitting them, and, according to the paper, the object can be as small as 10 kilometers across, or the typical size of a neutron star, according to the statement. The researchers say that they plan to use the study to repeat the FRB in even higher frequencies than what was stated in the article, that may help them reduce the possible causes of the eruption still continue, ” the statement said.

At the press conference, the paper of the authors said there are plenty of other hypotheses that could explain FRBs. It is unclear, but as the peculiar behavior of FRB 121102 is unusual among all the FRBs, or only among those that scientists have been able to observe, they said, but there are new radio telescopes coming online soon that can scan for these events and help researchers learn more about them.

Recently, Breakthrough Listen scientists have also studied the space rock ‘Oumuamua that scientists believe came from another solar system, and “Boyajian the Stars,” which has baffled astronomers with its strange flickering.

Editor’s note: This article previously stated that the dwarf galaxy is 3 billion miles from Earth; it is 3 billion light-years away.

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