Years from now, historians and astronomers may look back at our current time as the beginning of a new era in which humanity finally knows for certain that it is not alone in the universe. Thanks to improvements in our telescopes, astronomers are detecting and identifying more and more unexplained radio signals in deep space. While these have so far all been theorized to have natural origins, it will only take one extraterrestrial radio signal to change human history forever.
Of course, historians and astronomers might also look back and shake their heads in disgust at our vain attempts to find cosmic companionship after they discover that we truly are forever alone here in the black, heartless void of space. Still, new radio signals are being detected every day, lending hope that one will be The One. Just last week, the brand new CHIME radio telescope in Canada (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) detected an anomalous radio signal the likes of which have never been seen in space. The signal, designated FRB 180725A, represents the first known fast radio burst (FRB) at frequencies below 700 MHz. Will FRB 180725A be the one to change everything?
Let’s hope so. For now, much more data will need to be collected before any conclusions about this new radio burst could be made. In a press release issued on AstronomersTelegram.org, McGill University’s P.J. Boyle cautions against making any preliminary speculations about this anomalous radio signal, noting that “the data have not been corrected for frequency-dependent beam sensitivity and that “further observations to search for repeated bursts at all wavelengths are encouraged.”
After this new signal was discovered, several other radio bursts were detected at frequencies as low as 400 MHz, and preliminary analysis indicates that they are not the result of terrestrial interference. The exact locations from which these radio bursts originated still unknown, but astronomers are searching for them.
As additional FRBs are discovered I just have to wonder: what if some these are indeed transmissions from distant civilizations and we simply don’t yet have the tools or the know-how to interpret them? Sure, there are all sorts of scientific explanations for how they could be naturally-occurring, but as the history of science shows, scientific explanations are merely the best guess we have at the moment. Who knows what any of these signals might one day be discovered to be?