Astronomers have spotted the brightest fast radio burst ever recorded – and they say it will help finally pinpoint the source of the strange ‘alien signals’.
Fast radio bursts are brief, bright pulses of radio emissions and they have baffled astronomers for almost a decade.
Since they were first found in 2007, scientists have been unable to determine the origin of the radio emissions, which last just a few milliseconds.
Some claim they may be a message from ET, while others suggest they are created by a neutron star cocooned by a strong magnetic field.
So far, only 33 FRBs have been detected, but two groups of researchers have uncovered three more in recent days.
The first was discovered by Breakthrough Listen, which looks for signs of intelligent life in the universe and has been funded with $100 million (£75 million) of investment over ten years from internet mogul Yuri Milner.
The second and third were identified by a team of researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, on March 9 and 11.
The flash discovered on March 9 is around 4.5 times brighter than the next brightest signal ever uncovered according to the FRB Catalogue, a list of FRBs compiled by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.
All three FRBs were found using Australia’s Parkes Telescope.
‘Finding three this quickly is quite unusual,’ Peter Williams, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told New Scientist. ‘It seems like it was just luck.’
Only one FRB in the catalogue has been detected flashing more than once, but some researchers believe all FRBs repeat, with some too dim for us to see all of their flashes.
Some researchers have hypothesised that all FRBs repeat, and that they’re too dim for us to see all of the bursts.
Maura McLaughlin at West Virginia University in Morgantown, added that the March 9 FRB’s unusual brightness should make future detections easier if the repeating FRB hypothesis is correct.
She also believes future detection of further FRBs should be forthcoming, given that there are now so many people on the lookout for them.
Professor McLaughlin said: ‘Everyone’s sort of jumping on this bandwagon of looking for FRBs in the background all the time no matter what else is going on.
‘This should lead to a huge uptick in detections in the next year or so.’
FRBs were first detected in 2007 by experts scouring archival data from the Parkes Telescope dating back to 2001.
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