“We’ve found 20 fast radio bursts in a year, almost doubling the number detected worldwide since they were discovered in 2007.”
They’re ba-ack! Well, actually, they never went away. Neither did the theories (or hopes) that they’re signals from or sign of alien life. We’re talking, of course, about fast radio bursts – those rare and mysterious millisecond pulses from deep space that have baffled astronomers since the first one was discovered in 2007. An excited Dr. Ryan Shannon from the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia co-authored a new study in Nature describing the recent discovery of more FRBs, including both the closest and the brightest bursts seen so far. Are they any closer to a bright answer as to what they are?
“Our analysis shows that beams used for powering large light sails could yield parameters that are consistent with FRBs.”
In a different study published in 2017, Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb speculated that the fast radio bursts are signs that extraterrestrials think like we do about using light sails and laser beams to traverse the stars, only on a much bigger scale. That’s tough to prove for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that fact that, at the time, only 36 FRBs had been detected. That number is now 56 with the new discoveries by Shannon and his team using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder to scan a much wider piece of the sky than in previous searches. While their cause has not been determined (yet), the new study shed light on where FRBs are coming from.
“Using the new technology of the Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), we’ve also proved that fast radio bursts are coming from the other side of the Universe rather than from our own galactic neighbourhood.”
In a statement from The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), Shannon explains that timing the wavelengths as they reached the telescope told them how far the bursts had traveled, along with how much matter they passed through. The big reveal was that the FRBs are coming from galaxies outside of our own. Almost as exciting, when extrapolating what the ASKAP might find if it were able to scan the entire sky at once, they determined that FRBs are arriving at a rate between 30 and 45 per day. Finally, the bursts seem to have an upper threshold of energy, indicating that whatever is creating them has some limits.
So, the discovery of so many more fast radio bursts is big, but far from moving us any closer to determining what … or who … is sending them. “From where?” will probably be solved as the scanning continues. The rest will have to wait … unless a giant sail suddenly shows up.