Canadian researchers have received strange signals from deep space using a radio telescope. You can only guess at the source.
An unusual radio signal from a distant, distant galaxy has baffled astronomers. The signal was detected by a group of Canadian and American researchers using the Chime Radio Telescope in western Canada. Scientists use the instrument to search for so-called fast radio bursts – explosions of extremely high-energy radiation that, according to current knowledge, last a few thousandths of a second at most. However, the received signal now lasted more than three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than usual – and this is not the only special feature of the detector.
“Within those three seconds, there were waves of radiation that occurred with impressive regularity every few milliseconds,” says MIT astronomer Danielle Mitchell. “Like a heartbeat, thump, thump, thump. It’s the first time we’ve had such a repeat signal.” The signal traveled several billion light-years away on its way to Earth, and researchers can only speculate where it came from.
A radio signal can help measure the universe
“There aren’t many things in the universe that emit regularly repetitive signals,” explains Danielle Mitchell. “For example, we know from pulsars and magnetars in our galaxy, which rotate very quickly and emit combined radiation like a lighthouse. So this new signal could come from a pulsar or a hyperactive magnetar.” The researchers now hope to receive more regular signals from the source. Signals can act like clocks and help astronomers, for example, accurately measure the expansion of the universe.
“This discovery raises the question of exactly where this signal comes from and how we can use it for further space exploration,” says Danielle Micheli. “In the future, telescopes could pick up thousands of fast radio bursts every month, and then we’ll find more of these regularly recurring signals.”