Mysterious ‘alien’ radio signal traced back to its home galaxy

PARKES, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 13:  (AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND MAGAZINES OUT UNTIL OCT 1, 2009) A street sign in a paddock directs drivers to the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) Parkes Observatory radio telescope June 13, 2009 in Parkes, Australia. Known affectionately as The Dish, it is one of the largest radio telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere and was used by NASA during the Apollo 11 mission which saw man walk on the moon for the first time. The Dish became a house hold name when an Australian film of the same name directed by Rob Sitch was released in 2000 - it went on to become the highest grossing film of that year in Australia. These photographs were taken during filming for the BBC Knowledge production 'One Small Step: The Australian Story', which chronicles the 24hours surrounding man walking on the moon. Hosted by Peter FitzSimons, the programme counts down to the moon landing and the most famous human footsteps, to celebrate the mission's 40th anniversary this year. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) Parkes Observatory radio telescope (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Researchers have pinpointed the source of another ‘fast radio burst’ - a mysterious, powerful radio flash from space.

These bursts are bright pulses of radio emission milliseconds in duration, which release as much energy as the Sun does in 80 years - but scientists have, until now, struggled to chase the bursts to their sources.

The new find was made with CSIRO’s new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope in Western Australia.

CSIRO lead author Dr. Keith Bannister said.’This is the big breakthrough that the field has been waiting for since astronomers discovered fast radio bursts in 2007.’

In the 12 years since then, a global hunt has netted 85 of these bursts. Most have been ‘one-offs’ but a small fraction are ‘repeaters’ that recur in the same location.

Some experts have suggested they could be from extraterrestrials - or be created by the engines of interstellar spacecraft.

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In 2017 astronomers found a repeater’s home galaxy but localising a one-off burst has been much more challenging.

Fast radio bursts last less than a millisecond, making it difficult to accurately determine where they have come from.

Dr. Bannister’s team developed new technology to freeze and save ASKAP data less than a second after a burst arrives at the telescope.

This technology was used to pinpoint the location of FRB 180924 to its home galaxy (DES J214425.25-405400.81).

The team made a high-resolution map showing that the burst originated in the outskirts of a Milky Way-sized galaxy about 3.6 billion light-years away.

‘If we were to stand on the Moon and look down at the Earth with this precision, we would be able to tell not only which city the burst came from, but which postcode -- and even which city block,' Dr. Bannister said.

‘The burst we localised and its host galaxy look nothing like the ‘repeater’ and its host,' Dr. Deller said.

'It comes from a massive galaxy that is forming relatively few stars. This suggests that fast radio bursts can be produced in a variety of environments, or that the seemingly one-off bursts detected so far by ASKAP are generated by a different mechanism to the repeater.’

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