Radio Signals from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Know the latest updates about the "fast radio burst" signals that were received on Earth recently. What they meant, what we can expect and what is the way forward after this.

Fast Radio Burst from Outer Space Reaches Earth

Yesterday, scientists got all abuzz over a radio signal.

When you work at an observatory, you spend years and years waiting to discover something, or to detect a signal from somewhere.

Finally, scientists in Australia managed to do something that had never been done before — their instruments were able to pinpoint the origin of a detected radio signal. The pulse came from a galaxy far, far away, billions of light-years in fact.

This type of radio pulse is called a "fast radio burst"; It's essentially a very short radio emission from very far away. The source is always astronomically distant, so these types of signals are extremely rare.

Is it aliens sending us radio signals? Not only laymen but scientists too, are asking themselves this question. With the technology we have now, there is no way to determine who or what had sent the signal. But scientists were finally able to pinpoint the precise location, and this is a big leap forward.

The signal came from a galaxy that is about the same size as our own Milky Way, a "modest" 3.6 billion light-years from us.

Australia's CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) head of the study told the media that they had been awaiting this breakthrough for 12 years. The last time scientists had detected one of these "fast bursts" was back in 2007.

Astronomers had discovered a similar "burst" over a decade ago, but back then there was no way of pinpointing it to a singular galaxy. Those "bursts" last but a millisecond so you really have to be a good catcher, so to speak.
But now, scientists have so much more precise instruments at their disposal. If it were compared to terms familiar to us, it would be like standing on the moon and looking down on planet Earth and seeing a radio signal. The instruments are so precise that, at this point, we would know the postcode where it originated from, not just the city.

As of 2007, only 85 "bursts" have been spotted. Some of them would sound off only once, and others would beep repeatedly from the same source.

These bursts are so rare to spot because they have to pass through so much space before they hit a detector. And wherever matter they hit along the way alters them. They have to be pretty "lucky" in a sense to just make it all the way to Earth. Also, our technology is finally allowing us to see that path the signal followed, and the amount of matter it hit as it sped through outer space.

In the case of the signal from yesterday, it was just one. But it was loud and clear.

Of course, these radio signals require a confirmation from other worldwide telescopes. There are only so many observatories with telescopes sensitive enough to detect such "bursts." Though the signal was first confirmed in Australia, an observatory in Chile soon confirmed it thereafter.

Finally, the USA's own Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawaii confirmed the signal with their telescope.

So, is it a neutron star pulsing away, or an advanced civilization signalling us a "hello"?

The rate at which science is developing, we will soon know!


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