Astronomers Discover Radio Bursts From a Galaxy Far, Far Away | The Mary Sue
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Astronomers Discover Radio Bursts From a Galaxy Far, Far Away


So, we might have got a message from some aliens? This seems big.

The SETI Institute and other astronomers have dedicated years of research and analysis to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (hence the acronym SETI). One of the ways astronomers look for life and study the stars is via listening to radio waves from space. That’s actually far more complicated than it sounds because it turns out space isn’t very quiet.

Astronomers study things called “Fast Radio Bursts,” or FRBs and there are lots of them. Astronomers don’t actually know why these bursts or what they mean, so they’re a fascinating field of study in general. According to Science Alert: these type of signals “belch out across the cosmos without rhyme or reason, with no discernible pattern, making them incredibly hard to study.”

Which is why the most recent discovery has astronomers very excited: they have discovered an FRB that displays periodicity. Meaning: we picked up a radio signal from space that repeats in a consistent pattern.

Here’s the science-y explanation:

Every 16.35 days, the signal named FRB 180916.J0158+65 follows a similar pattern. For four days, it will spit out a burst or two every hour. Then it falls silent for 12 days. Then the whole thing repeats.

Astronomers with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) Collaboration in Canada observed this cycle for a total of 409 days. We don’t yet know what it means; but it could be another piece in the complicated conundrum of FRBs. The research has been uploaded to pre-print server arXiv, where it awaits scrutiny from other experts in the field.

What does this mean? Are we picking up aliens reaching out across the vastness of space to say hi or is it just random? Is this first contact????

Uh. No. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are other FRBs that display some sort of repeating pattern, but the fact that this FRB both repeats and comes back every 18.35 days is what’s interesting and it could help scientists pinpoint where it’s coming from (or at least its galactic neighborhood) and why. It could be the orbital period of a star system or a binary star. Or it could be aliens!

Whatever it is, it’s extremely cool to think about scientists detecting signals and patterns from other galaxies and everything that could mean.

(via: Science Alert)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.