Rare and brief bursts of cosmic radio waves have puzzled astronomers since they were first detected 10 years ago. Some suggested these mysterious bursts of energy could be a sign of alien life trying to contact us. Now scientists have confirmed that the mysterious signals really do come from outer space.
Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are radio emissions that appear temporarily and randomly, making them not only hard to find, but also hard to study. The mystery stems from the fact it is not known what could produce such a short and sharp burst. This has led some to speculate they could be anything from stars colliding to artificially created messages.
'Perhaps the most bizarre explanation for the FRBs is that they were alien transmissions,' said Professor Matthew Bailes from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, who contributed to the new research.
Now researchers from Australian National University have detected three FRBS using the Molonglo radio telescope, near Canberra. In 2013, scientists realised that the Molonglo telescope's unique architecture could be used to pinpoint FRs because of its enormous focal length.
'Conventional single dish radio telescopes have difficulty establishing that transmissions originate beyond the Earth's atmosphere,' said Dr Chris Flynn from Swinburne University of Technology.
A massive re-engineering effort began, which is now opening a new window on the Universe. The Molonglo telescope has a huge collecting area of 193,750sq ft (18,000 sq m) and a large field of view (eight square degrees on the sky). The telescope produces 1000 TB of data every day. In comparison, all of the web pages on Wikipedia use just 5.87 terabytes of storage.
Researchers developed software capable of sifting through this vast information to hunt down FRBS. Using this software, the researchers pinpointed the likely locations of three FRBs.
'It is very exciting to see the University of Sydney's Molonglo telescope making such important scientific discoveries by partnering with Swinburne's expertise in supercomputing', said Professor Anne Green of the University of Sydney.
The telescope data indicated that all three FBRs originated in outer space, but only one could be localised to an individual galaxy.
'Figuring out where the bursts come from is the key to understanding what makes them. Only one burst has been linked to a specific galaxy. We expect Molonglo will do this for many more bursts.' said Manish Caleb, a PhD student at Australian National University who designed the new software.
The research was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the writer write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Facebook