Mysterious repeating radio bursts baffle physicists

Scientists analysing data say chances bursts are caused by intelligent life are low, but origins remain a mystery.

    The mysterious radio bursts were detected by the world's most powerful radio telescope [Nasa/Reuters]
    The mysterious radio bursts were detected by the world's most powerful radio telescope [Nasa/Reuters]

    Physicists have been stunned by the detection of a number of rapidly repeating radio waves coming from deep space, according to two new studies published in Nature.

    Although scientists have some theories about what causes of the so-called repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) and their origin, exact details are still unknown.

    "FRBs, it seems, are likely generated in dense, turbulent regions of host galaxies," Shriharsh Tendulkar, a corresponding author for both studies and an astronomer at McGill University in Canada, told AFP news agency.

    "The fact that the bursts are repeated rules out any cataclysmic models in which the source is destroyed while generating the burst," he added. 

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

    FRBs flash only for a micro-instant but can emit as much energy as the sun does in 10,000 years.

    FRBs are not rare, as about 60 have been catalogued since 2007, but only one has been a repeating FRB so far, opening up debate as to what causes them.

    However, Tendulkar said it was extremely unlikely the waves were caused by intelligent life.

    "As a scientist I can't rule it out 100 percent. But intelligent life is not on the minds of any astronomer as a source of these FRBs," he said.

    The radio waves were detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), the world's most powerful radio telescope, spread across an area as big as a football pitch. 

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    Constructed in British Columbia, Canada, CHIME is composed of four, 100-metre 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

    The repeating FRBs were detected during CHIME's trial run earlier this summer, which used only a small amount of the telescope's potential power.

    Since then, CHIME has been at its maximum capacity, and it is expected to detect many more of the enigmatic pulses now that it is fully operational.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies