AUSTRALIAN scientists have discovered that one of the universe’s most mysterious and brightest signals is extraterrestrial in origin.
The source of the strange bursts of radio energy known as Fast Radio Bursts have been the cause of much confusion and consternation.
They are pulses of light one billion times brighter than anything seen before.
Scientists have been studying them for 10 years but have struggled to explain where they come from.
They have been linked to everything from aliens and errors in measurement to interference from Earth.
But now an Australian research team has confirmed the bizarre signals are not coming from our planet.
Key to understanding where the FRBs come from has been the giant Molonglo telescope located 40km outside of Canberra.
Single dish antennas have had trouble establishing the origins of the FRBs but Molonglo’s 778m long antennae has overcome that issue.
Unlike single dish antennas Molonglo can see a number of beams in the sky at once.
As a result scientists at the Australian National University and Swinburne University have confirmed the mysterious signals do come from outer space.
Manish Caleb has pioneered that research.
“Because of the telescope’s characteristics, we’re 100 per cent sure the bursts came from space,” Caleb told the Royal Astronomical Society.
“We have scientifically confirmed that FRBs are extraterrestrial.”
Caleb’s supervisor, Dr Chris Flynn of Swinburne University told the publication: “Local radio interference shows up in several of Molonglo’s beams.
“Cosmic signals never show up in more than three. That’s how we knew these signals were cosmic.”
However exactly what the bursts are remains up in the air.
Some scientists have just suggested it could be the ‘exhaust’ of alien space probes or even alien megastructures.
One such example, they surmised, could be a solar-powered transmitter with a surface area twice the size of the Earth.
Such a machine would involve an enormous construction effort.
But still nowhere near the interplanetary size of the alien megastructure proposed as an explanation for giving the star KIC 8462852 its strange stutter.
And there could be a very strong reason to build such a device: Interstellar travel.
The raw power contained in such a focused radio stream would be enough to propel a 1-million-tonne ship over interstellar distances, they say.
At 20 times bigger than the largest ocean liner, “that’s big enough to carry living passengers across interstellar or even intergalactic distances,” said Manasvi Lingam of Harvard University, a co-author of a study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
So why do we see only a flash?
Such a ship would likely need the radio beam to be blasting into its sails constantly.
The researchers say all things are relative.
The sail-ship is moving. Its host planet is moving. Its star is moving.
This means the radio beams would only occasionally sweep past our direction.
Is this all just pie-in-the-sky thinking?
“Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence,” Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics theorist Avi Loeb says.
“Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”