A team of scientists led by Paul Scholz of McGill University has recently detected six FRBs (Fast Radio Bursts) coming from the direction of a region in space known as FRB 121102. According to their report which was published in The Astrophysical Journal, they were able to detect five of the FRBs using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and one FRB through the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
FRBs are radio signals or emissions that come from the deep regions of the cosmos and last for only a few milliseconds (one thousandth of a second). FRBs are considered as extremely powerful events because in the short time that they last, they are capable of producing energy that’s equivalent to the amount of energy the sun gives off in one entire day.
The first FRB was discovered in 2007. Since then, several more have been observed through telescopic data, though all were just single distinct occurrences. This made the phenomenon difficult to observe because no two bursts came from the exact location. Until now.
FRB121102 is the only location in space where multiple FRBs have been detected so far. The first recurrent signals were detected in March this year. There were ten of these FRBs and based on available data, these occurred sometime between May and June in 2015. More than eight months later, the McGill University research team discovered six more FRBs coming from the same spot. So far, this brings the total number of FRBs from that location up to 17.
While FRBs are not rare, the fact that they happen randomly and in such short bursts (hence the name fast radio bursts) is what makes observing them as they are happening close to impossible. Before the FRBs detected this year, scientists had to be contented with studying the event long after it happened. But now, with several FRBs coming from the same spot, it’s not illogical to think that the signals will be repeated. And if observed closely (and patiently), maybe when another set of FRBs are detected, we’ll have a better chance of figuring out what these signals are.
Right now, there are a few theories. According to one theory, FRBs result from a catastrophic event like a supernova (explosion of a star) or two neutron stars colliding and forming a black hole. Another theory states that FRBs come from a young neutron star. And of course, there’s the favorite among conspiracy theorists — the one that postulates that FRBs come from extra terrestrials trying to make contact with us.
Because of the repetitive emissions, it doesn’t seem likely that the first theory is correct — that it is being caused by a one-time big time event. And so researchers are coming to a temporary consensus that maybe the FRBs can’t be explained by a single event, and that there might actually be different types of FRBs resulting from different types of cosmic events. Data is still too scarce at this point so the only thing we can be sure of is that further studies need to be carried out for a clearer and more definite answer to this riddle. Admit it, though. You want to think it’s aliens too, don’t you?