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Mysterious radio signals from deep space detected

10 January 2019

In October researchers used a radio telescope in Australia to almost double the number of known fast radio bursts.

FRBs are short, bright flashes of radio waves, which appear to be coming from nearly halfway across the Universe.

"An FRB emitted from a merger of two neutron stars, or a neutron star and a black hole, for example, can not repeat".

The blasts were discovered by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment in British Columbia.

Indeed, it's still early days in our understanding of FRBs, but a pair of papers published today in Nature are offering tantalising new clues about this enigmatic feature of the cosmos.

In 2007, astronomers discovered a new phenomenon that they called an FRB.

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The telescope only got up and running a year ago, detecting 13 of the radio bursts nearly immediately, including the repeater.

In all the researchers spotted some 13 of the bursts in just a three week period, offering a vast new trove of data for the scientists hunting for their source.

Including the repeater, CHIME picked up a total of 13 new FRBs over the course of two months. CHIME is created to detect FRBs within the 400 to 800 MHz range.

"The telescope has no moving parts". Currently, the origin of the signals is unknown.

CHIME, the world's most powerful radio telescope is poised to detect many more of the enigmatic pulses now that it is fully operational.

They found that one of the FRBs was repeating.

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Petroff said she wasn't surprised the CHIME astronomers found another repeating FRB, but she was surprised they found it so soon.

"[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth", he said. The first repeating fast radio burst was recorded at a frequency of 700 megahertz, but some of the bursts CHIME recorded were as low as 400 megahertz. The detection by CHIME of FRBs at lower frequencies means some of these theories will need to be reconsidered. CHIME measures scattering more precisely than other instruments because it operates at lower frequencies.

Most of the 13 FRBs showed signs of "scattering" that suggest their sources could be powerful astrophysical objects in locations with special characteristics, the scientists said.

Team member Dr Cherry Ng, from the University of Toronto, said: "That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova [exploding star] remnant". Some have proposed explanations, such as energy being flung as black holes tear stars apart, or perhaps even distant alien civilizations sending out long-range signals in the hopes of finding intelligent life. "We would also like to study the properties of whole populations of FRBs and try to see if there are different sources that give rise to repeaters and non-repeaters".

Constructed in British Columbia, CHIME is composed of 4, 100-meter long half-pipe cylinders of metal mesh which reconstruct images of the sky by processing the radio signals recorded by more than a thousand antennas.

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