On Wednesday, astronomers announced that they had detected fast radio bursts — or FRBs — within our galaxy for the first time. These strange energetic phenomena remain a mystery, but possible explanations include a massive galactic cataclysm of extra-terrestrial technology. Scientists told The Independent that they still cannot trace the origin of these signals.
FRBs are short bursts of energy that can be as much as 100 million times more powerful than the sun, yet they last only a fraction of a second. Scientists have detected them before, but Wednesday's announcement was the first time they noticed a burst originating in the Milky Way galaxy, beginning on April 27, 2020. Astronomers speculate that the signals can only develop in extreme conditions — possibly dying stars or other inter-planetary disasters. There is also a possibility that they have something to do with alien life or alien technology.
So far, detected FRBs have been unpredictable and have originated far away, making it hard to gather data on them. In this case, the burst seems to have come from a magnetar — a star with a powerful magnetic field. The scientists who traced this FRB told The Independent this burst almost certainly came from relatively close to home.
"There's this great mystery as to what would produce these great outbursts of energy, which until now we've seen coming from halfway across the universe," said lead analyst Kiyoshi Masui. "This is the first time we've been able to tie one of these exotic fast radio bursts to a single astrophysical object."
Masui's team has named this burst FRB 200428. Perhaps because it was close to home, it was the first FRB to give noticeable emissions besides radio signals, including X-ray and gamma-ray emissions. The team observed the patch of sky where the blast came from through two North American telescopes.
The full extent of the team's findings so far is laid out in three papers published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday. It is an international effort, relying on technology and personnel from Canada, the U.S. and China. It also utilized data gathered in space.
FRBs were first discovered in 2007, and since then, no single theory on their origin has taken the lead. Scientists have long speculated that they originate with Magnetars, but this was the first burst reliably traced to one. As for the possible influence of alien technology, scientists can't rule it out, but it would require a devastating amount of energy, they say.