Three billion years ago something or someone from a tiny galaxy in the constellation Auriga, sent a signal to the rest of the Universe.
The first signal was received here on Earth, ten years ago.
What, or who sent these signals is a mystery.
The signals are called Fast Radio Bursts (FRB)s
The last one is called FRB 121102. It’s different than those before. It appears to be repeating from the same location.
So far it’s the only repeating FRB signal found.
Shami Chatterjee, astronomer at Cornel University, who discovered the repeating FRBs, got the idea to study them with a huge network of radio telescopes.
And, it paid off. Shami and his team were able to track down where they came from. Nine were found, not all at the same power level. Their work is published in the journal Nature.
Now that the source has been discovered, they can study the galaxy further.
It’s still not known what caused the FRBs. When they were first discovered, they were thought to come from interference here on Earth. Further inspection showed that the FRBs are different than those from Earth.
One would expect a burst to arrive at the same time over multiple frequencies. But these FRBs arrived at different times, high frequencies first, followed by the lower frequencies.
This indicates that the waves traveled through an interstellar medium such as gas and plasma.
That time delay could be used to measure how much stuff it had to travel through, giving more insight into the nature of the interstellar medium.
The fact that the signals came from 3 billion light years away also suggest that the source is also ridiculously bright.
Dozens of theories were put on the table, but the fact that signals are repeating, theories are falling off the table.
Of course there could be more than one way these FRBs were created, so the theories won’t completely fall off the radar.
The team used the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) of 27 dishes in New Mexico to pinpoint the source.
This is where Jodie Foster received an alien signal in the 1997 movie Contact.
Sure enough, there was a tiny galaxy at the source of the signal. By looking at the level of red-shift in the spectrum, they were able to determine the 3 billion light year distance.
This signal isn’t a live broadcast. It was sent 3 billion years ago. Here on Earth photosynthesis was just beginning to produce oxygen.
What could be sending the signal? Aliens just saying Hello World?
Could it be a super-massive black hole that’s spewing out jets of material at near light speed?
It could be a very dense type of neutron star called a magnetar, the most magnetic type of object in the Universe. A teaspoon of this star would weigh several thousand billion tonnes.
We’ve seen them here in our own galaxy, but the energy output is too high for that theory. If there was something that was causing a lensing effect however, it would be plausible.
Another outstanding question now is, do all FRBs repeat?
The source of FRBs is still a mystery. They were first discovered in 2007. Although aliens sending the signals are highly unlikely, they have not yet been ruled out.
For it to be an aliens, they would have to be so advanced that they could control the energy of a billion suns, or some massive black hole.
Imagine, a super advanced civilization sending a signal 3 billion years ago, when microscopic life on Earth was just getting started.
An extraordinary claim, that would require extraordinary proof.
Back in the 1960’s, pulsating neutron stars, called pulsars, were suspected by some to be alien signals.
If there was an alien civilization that was able to harness and consume the energy of all the stars in it’s galaxy, then one could expect the galaxy to eventually appear small, which this one does.
Of course, this advanced alien civilization is highly unlikely according to experts. Or, is it?
The whole point of looking out there is to understand our place in the Universe. Are we alone?
In October 2016, a team of astronomers from Laval University in Quebec, Canada, published a report saying that they had detected signals coming from a star cluster.
They analyzed the spectra of 2.5 million stars, and discovered 234, which resemble our sun in size, were producing the signals.
“We find that the detected signals have exactly the same shape of an ETI (Extraterrestrial Intelligence) signal,” wrote Ermanno Borra and Eric Trottier.
Back in 2012, Ermanno suggested that an ET civilization might use a laser as an interstellar communications mechanism. If they flashed a laser at Earth like a strobe light, we would see the periodic bursts of light hidden in the spectrum of their host star. They would be super faint, but mathematical analysis could uncover them.
The uncovered pulses have the same periodicity, about 1.65 picoseconds. That’s one trillionth, with a T, of a second. It’s 0. 12 zeros, and 165.
“Although unlikely, it could be that the signals are due to highly peculiar chemical compositions in a small fraction of galactic halo stars.”
They are literally discarding any other possible explanation instrument effects, rapid stellar pulses, molecular rotation, or strange chemistry.
According to the team, only extremely powerful lasers could generate these super-fast pulses.
Of course further research is required to confirm their findings.
The fact that they even announced their findings to the public before confirmation, is kinda breaking protocol to begin with.
Andrew Siemens, director of the SETI Research centre, said it’s an incredibly profound subject. Many devote their entire lives to the field, and put so much energy into trying to answer these questions.
He states that you cannot make such claims before exhausting every possible means of follow-up.
So that’s exactly what Andrew’s project, Breakthrough Listen Initiative, is going to do.
The team will observe several stars from Ermanno’s sample with the 2.4 meter Automated Planet Finder Telescope.
Ermanno is excited that others are taking the bull by the horns.
“At this stage, the signal is so strange, that although our detailed analysis seems to indicate a real signal, it has to be validated with more work,” he says.
Of course even though a claim like this has plenty of room for human error, it’s still fantastic.
The Universe is incredibly vast.
If we were alone, it would be an incredible waste of space.
And, if true however, it would be wise to find them, before they find us. Why? Well, that’s another story.
Thank you for reading.