Is ET real? Mysterious radio blasts from a distant galaxy draw attention of alien hunters

Is ET real? Mysterious radio blasts from a distant galaxy draw attention of alien hunters

January 12, 2018 2:45 PM

Repeating bursts of radio waves coming from a distant dwarf galaxy probably aren’t signals from an extraterrestrial civilization, but that hasn’t stopped a group of E.T. hunters from investigating this peculiar phenomenon.

Repeating bursts of radio waves coming from a distant dwarf galaxy probably aren’t signals from an extraterrestrial civilization, but that hasn’t stopped a group of E.T. hunters from investigating this peculiar phenomenon.

In August, scientists with the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative began observing an object known as FRB 121102. The object is one of less than 40 known examples of a fast radio burst (FRB), an incredibly bright flash of radio waves. Scientists don’t yet know what causes FRBs, which is why they took a particular interest in FRB 121102. While all other observed FRBs are single explosions of radio waves, this one was releasing bright flashes of light over and over again.

 A new study, co-authored by scientists with Breakthrough Listen, reveals the conclusions of those August observations: nearly 100 percent of the light from FRB 121102 is polarized, meaning the orientation of the light waves are all in the same direction. Most radiating objects in the universe produce unpolarized light, so the uniformity of light from FRB 121102 could help scientists narrow down the type of object or environment that might be producing those flashes. (You can read our full story here.)

“As far as the FRB121102 goes, I don’t think there is any slight possibility that [the pulses] are from an extraterrestrial intelligence,” Vishal Gajjar, a scientist with Breakthrough Listen, said yesterday (Jan. 10) during a news conference at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

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The primary reason for Gajjar’s skepticism is that the object is in a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light-years away from Earth. A civilization trying to contact another civilization probably wouldn’t bother to create such a powerful signal, simply because the time it would take to receive a reply would be prohibitively long. For example, the radio waves from FRB 121102 took 3 billion years to reach Earth — the civilization that sent the message might very well be dead and gone by the time it received a reply!

But Gajjar said Breakthrough Listen is also interested in investigating unexplainable phenomenon in the universe, even if those phenomena are naturally occurring.

Polarized light

One explanation for the polarized light coming from FRB 121102 could be the presence of a very strong magnetic field, according to a statement from the University of California, Berkeley, where the Breakthrough Listen laboratory is based. The only known place in the universe with such strong magnetic fields is in the vicinity of a massive black hole — such as the supermassive blackholes thought to lie at the centers of most galaxies — that has gas and dust falling into it, according to the statement. The authors of

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2018-01-14T02:59:20+00:00January 14th, 2018|