Scientists Just Discovered Something Amazing From The Other Side Of The Universe

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While poking around in the depths of space, some Australian scientists discovered something that tends to elude us more often than not. Specifically, they discovered about 20 signals that are commonly known in the scientific world as “fast radio bursts” or “FRBs.” Their findings were recently published in the international science journal known as Nature.

This phenomenon was discovered just over a decade ago and are very hard to find. This is why:

FRBs last just a few milliseconds and appear to be coming from a source beyond the Milky Way. They are picked up by radio telescopes—but are normally only found by scientists in the data long after the event has ended. They have previously been compared to seeing the flash of a camera in a pitch black room, then trying to work out where the camera is located while still in the dark. Around 40 separate events have been detected in total.

Adding to the minuscule total, another group, Breakthrough Listen—an initiative to find intelligent alien life in the universe—announced 72 more bursts had been discovered. They have pinpointed the source to be a galaxy about 3.7 billion light-years away — but what is the cause of these bursts is still a mystery.

These two discoveries have more than tripled the number of these FRBs happening — although none of the new bursts have been found to repeat, being “one-off” events. In fact, historically, only 1 burst has ever been found to repeat.

The scientists have been able to better pinpoint the source of the bursts with the recent discoveries. They also have learned more about how they travel through the universe which helped them figure out the source of the bursts.

Scientists involved in these studies are very excited about these new discoveries. Andrew Siemion, Director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and Principal Investigator on Breakthrough Listen, recently made some comments on the new findings. “The latest results from the ASKAP FRB team are very exciting,” he told Newsweek. “In addition to nearly doubling the number of known FRB sources, this work reveals the existence of a population of very bright FRB sources that had been expected, but not known, to exist.”

He added that:

“The tentative identification of a host galaxy for one of the bursts will surely prompt additional follow-up. The fact that these discoveries resulted from the team’s ingenuity in extending ASKAP’s already large field-of-view to the extreme is yet another demonstration of how exploring new parameter space can result in dramatic discoveries.”

“As is standard for FRB research up to this point, this work raises more questions than it answers. What is the cause of the diverse spectral properties seen in the bursts?  Why were none of these bursts seen to repeat, even after very extensive follow-up? Do these FRBs represent a fundamentally different population than the one well-studied FRB known to repeat? As the team continues to build their observation capabilities, improving the fidelity of the captured data products as well as their ability to localize bursts, insights into the answers are likely to follow.”

Unfortunately, however, scientists still do not know what is causing the bursts or the difference between the one repeating FRB and the rest of them that haven’t repeated. Potentially, the FRBs could have different sources. Some may come from black holes or neutron stars — but it is possible they could be from something more intelligent. We simply do not know at this point.

Another scientist involved in FRB studies, Ryan Shannon told Newsweek that “The tentative identification of a host galaxy for one of the bursts will surely prompt additional follow-up. The fact that these discoveries resulted from the team’s ingenuity in extending ASKAP’s already large field-of-view to the extreme is yet another demonstration of how exploring new parameter space can result in dramatic discoveries.”

“As is standard for FRB research up to this point, this work raises more questions than it answers. What is the cause of the diverse spectral properties seen in the bursts?  Why were none of these bursts seen to repeat, even after very extensive follow-up? Do these FRBs represent a fundamentally different population than the one well-studied FRB known to repeat? As the team continues to build their observation capabilities, improving the fidelity of the captured data products as well as their ability to localize bursts, insights into the answers are likely to follow.”

Stay tuned, this could get very interesting.

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