Dozens of mysterious, repeating radio signals have been coming from a galaxy 3 billion light-years away, suggesting that there may be an alien intelligence behind it. Or, it could be little more than naturally-occurring cosmic background noise.
As The Express reports, a long time ago (2017, actually), about 72 “fast radio bursts,” or FRBs, were detected coming from a galaxy far, far away, lovingly named 121102. No one noticed them at the time since radio telescopes all over the world are constantly scanning the skies “listening,” as it were, for signs of intelligent life. What’s more, several different programs are all listening; those programs include the Breakthrough Listen project and Canada’s the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), among others. It takes time, computing power, and complex algorithms to go through all of that data and make sense of it all.
And once the numbers were crunched and the other possibilities were eliminated, it was revealed that the mysterious, and potential breakthrough, signals were picked up by West Virginia’s Green Bank Telescope, according to Newsweek.
The data revealed that 21 bursts were received by the telescope in a 72-hour period. Another 51 such bursts have also been pinpointed by other telescopes to have come from the same spot.
The signals interest alien-hunting scientists because they repeat; that could be an indication that they’re being sent across space and time by an intelligent alien species, says The Express. All other FRBs, which generally last less than a millisecond, have occurred only once.
Beautiful view of the #GreenBankTelescope today. Did you know with the diameter 328 ft and 1 in makes the #GBT the world’s largest steerable telescope in the world?
–#almostheaven #GoToWV #mywv #greenbank #telescope pic.twitter.com/TKQgwUwDR9
— Baby Life Adventures (@babylifeadv) September 3, 2018
Of course, there’s a giant bridge to be built between receiving some interesting data and concluding once and for all that intelligent life is out there in the universe. And it could very well be that the radio signal is naturally-occurring, such as the dying gasps of a collapsing neutron star.
To scientists, far more interesting than the radio signals themselves is how they were found.
Pete Worden, executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said it was the method of finding those signals, rather than the signals themselves, that are of scientific value. That’s because there was so much data to pore through – 400 terabytes – that it literally required artificial intelligence to make sense of it all.
“Not all discoveries come from new observations, In this case, it was smart, original thinking applied to an existing dataset. It has advanced our knowledge of one of the most tantalizing mysteries in astronomy.”
Meanwhile, unless and until someone can decipher those FRBs – if indeed there is anything to decipher – they’ll be more of a scientific curiosity than real evidence of extraterrestrial life.