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New radio telescope picks up unexplained space signals

 

February 2019

CHIME telescope

There is an awful lot of space out there. It can be impossible to get our head around any of it really...the different universes, the emptiness, the sheer distances and the time scales.

Already the scientists reckon there are at least 500 billion billion suns out there...but without any knowledge of an end to space, that could be the tip of an iceberg.

So for many of us, it hasn’t come as a surprise that astronomers at the University of British Columbia in Canada say they have detected some mysterious radio signals coming from deep space.

It was only last year that the university’s new CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, came into operation. CHIME stands for Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment and consists of four 100-metre-long semi cylindrical antennas which scan the entire northern sky every day.

The signals picked up by the new telescopes consisted of FRBs or fast radio bursts. There were 13 FRBs all coming from the same source about 2.5 billion light years away, and they came in a very unusual repeating signal.

The pulses, with fast extremely low frequencies, suggest that the blast was extremely bright and originated from an insanely powerful source somewhere in the cosmos.

Patrick Boyle, a project manager at CHIME, says the strange new signatures picked up by the radio telescope occurred during both day and night, and did not correlate with any known on-site activities or other known sources.

The Canadian experience backs up reports from other unconnected astronomers and astrophysicists about FRBs coming from deep in space. An FRB event similar to the latest Canadian one has been reported through a different telescope, and along with these two repeating signals, about 60 single fast radio bursts have also been detected by scientists in different locations.

While the precise nature and origin of the blasts of radio waves is unknown, the University of Columbia’s astrophysicist Ingrid Stairs said that the latest incident suggests there could be more out there.

"With more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles - where they're from and what causes them," she said.

Avi Loeb, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astro Physics, said that an artificial origin or extra terrestrial intelligence for these signals was worth considering. Other possible causes could be supernovas, supermassive black holes, or even the merging of two neutron stars which were spinning very rapidly and had strong magnetic fields.

No one knows.

But thanks to amazing new equipment such as the new CHIME radio telescope, we are beginning to edge forward on our understanding of space. Whether that will eventually introduce us to extra terrestrial intelligence, in whatever form it might take, remains to be seen.

There is a lot on CHINE including a news page at chime-experiment.ca


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