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ET Calling? Astronomers Pick Up Radio Signals From Space

31 Août 2017

Breakthrough Listen, a project dedicated to finding signs of intelligent life in the universe, has detected 15 "fast radio burst" (FRB) signals coming from a mysterious cluster of stars. Suggested explanations include everything from neutron star outbursts to alien civilizations using some form of directed energy to propel a spacecraft.

The streaks across the colored energy plot are fast radio bursts, or FRBs, appear at different times and different energies because of dispersion caused by 3 billion years of travel through intergalactic space.

FRBs are bright, millisecond-long pulses of radio signals from beyond the Milky Way that were first identified only a decade ago.

"FRB 121102 was discovered on November 2, 2012, which gives it the name (121102)".

A spokesman for the project said: "Attempts to understand the mechanism that generates FRBs have made this galaxy a target of ongoing monitoring campaigns by instruments across the globe". On Saturday, UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Dr. Vishal Gajjar used the Breakthrough Listen backend instrument at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to target FRB 121102 once again. After observing for five hours and across the entire 4 to 8 GHz frequency band, Gajjar and the Listen team analyzed the 400 terabytes of data gathered and found 15 new pulses from FRB 121102.

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Breakthrough Listen is a global astronomical initiative launched in 2015 by Internet investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and the British physicist Stephen Hawking.

However, we simply can't explain the origin of these mysterious pulses. The distinctive shape that the dispersion imposes on the initial pulse is an indicator of the amount of material between us and the source, and hence an indicator of the distance to the host galaxy. As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before.

The project added the signals originated in their home galaxy when our Solar System was just two billion years old.

This was the first time when the higher frequency FRBs, also dubbed as the "repeater", were received by scientists. Life on Earth consisted only of single-celled organisms; it would be another billion years before even the simplest multi-cellular life began to evolve. The extraordinary capabilities of the Listen backend, which is able to record several gigahertz of bandwidth at a time, split into billions of individual channels, enable a new view of the frequency spectrum of FRBs, and should shed additional light on the processes giving rise to FRB emission.

ET Calling? Astronomers Pick Up Radio Signals From Space