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Mysterious radio signal in space is traced to a nearby galaxy-like galaxy

Mysterious radio signals in space are traced to a nearby galaxy-like galaxy – but scientists still don’t know the cause

  • Came from Galaxy FRB 180916, which is only half a billion light years from Earth
  • It is said that the nearby galaxy is similar in size and shape to our Milky Way
  • Discovery deepens the mystery surrounding the radio signals and scientists still have no idea what causes them

Astronomers have traced the source of a mysterious, repetitive ‘rapid radio shot’ in space to a nearby galaxy that resembles the Milky Way.

The repeating radio signal – four bursts over a five-hour period, each lasting less than two thousandths of a second – was first detected by the CHIME Canada telescope in 2018.

Despite more than ten years of research into these types of signals, astronomers are no closer to understanding the cause.

Galaxy FRB 180916, the newly discovered source of the fast radio burst, is only half a billion light-years from Earth – much closer than previously traced signals.

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Researchers used the Very Large Array observatory in New Mexico (photo) to search for pulsations and a sustained radio glow of burst that was eventually reduced to Galaxy FRB 180916, only half a billion light years from Earth

Researchers used the Very Large Array observatory in New Mexico (photo) to search for pulsations and a sustained radio glow of burst that was eventually reduced to Galaxy FRB 180916, only half a billion light years from Earth

Kevin Bandura, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of West Virginia, said: closest to the earth so far.

“The unique proximity and repetition of this FRB can allow observation in other wavelengths and the potential for more detailed research to understand the nature of this type of FRB.”

At half a billion light-years from Earth, the source of the burst is seven times closer than the only other repeating burst that is located.

It is also more than ten times closer than one of the few non-repeating bursts that scientists have managed to figure out.

The source of the burst is seven times closer than the only other repeating burst that is located. It also deepens the mystery surrounding the signals because scientists have no idea what the radio signals are creating (file photo)

The source of the burst is seven times closer than the only other repeating burst that is located. It also deepens the mystery surrounding the signals because scientists have no idea what the radio signals are creating (file photo)

The source of the burst is seven times closer than the only other repeating burst that is located. It also deepens the mystery surrounding the signals because scientists have no idea what the radio signals are creating (file photo)

The breakthrough was achieved by researchers from West Virginia University using data from eight telescopes spread across the UK to China.

This study, published in the journal Nature, builds on the rich history of the institute of research on FRBs after having first discovered them in 2007.

It also deepens the mystery surrounding the signals, as academics previously thought they were made exclusively by magnetars – an incredibly dense star that emits huge amounts of high-energy radiation, including x-rays and gamma rays.

But the galaxy that broke out the newest radio shot was similar to the Milky Way – much larger and less dominated by metal than the galaxies that previous FRBs produced.

This dispels the theory that they can only be created by specific galaxies, but does not help to limit the possible causes.

Sarah Burke-Spolaor, assistant professor of physics and astronomy and co-author, said: ‘Many publications [said] that repeating FRBs are likely to be produced by magnetars (neutron stars with powerful magnetic fields).

“Although that is still possible, the fact that this FRB breaks the unique character of the previous mold means that we may have to take into account multiple origins or a wider range of theories to understand what FRBs create.”

WHAT ARE FAST RADIO BURSTS AND WHY STUDY THEM?

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are radio broadcasts that appear temporarily and randomly, making them not only difficult to find but also difficult to study.

The mystery stems from the fact that it is not known what could cause such a short and sharp burst.

This has led some to speculate that this can be anything from stars that clash to artificially created messages.

Scientists looking for fast radio bursts (FRBs), some of whom think they may be signals from aliens, can happen every second. The blue dots in this artist's impression of the filament structure of galaxies that extend across the sky are signals from FRBs

Scientists looking for fast radio bursts (FRBs), some of whom think they may be signals from aliens, can happen every second. The blue dots in this artist's impression of the filament structure of galaxies that extend across the sky are signals from FRBs

Scientists looking for fast radio bursts (FRBs), some of whom think they may be signals from aliens, can happen every second. The blue dots in this artist’s impression of the filament structure of galaxies are signals from FRBs

The first FRB was spotted in 2001, or rather ‘heard’ by radio telescopes, but was only discovered in 2007 when scientists analyzed archival data.

But it was so temporary and seemingly random that it took years for astronomers to agree that it was not a glitch in any of the telescope’s instruments.

Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics point out that FRBs can be used to study the structure and evolution of the universe, regardless of whether their origins are fully understood.

A large population of distant FRBs could act as probes of material over huge distances.

This intermediate material blurs the signal from the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the remaining radiation from the Big Bang.

A careful study of this intervening material should provide a better understanding of fundamental cosmic components, such as the relative amounts of ordinary matter, dark matter, and dark energy that affect how rapidly the universe expands.

FRBs can also be used to find out what has broken down the ‘fog’ of hydrogen atoms that the early universe has penetrated into free electrons and protons as the temperatures cool down after the big bang.

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