We Detected a Radio Signal That Repeats Every 16 Days

What we don't know is what's causing it
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2020 1:11 PM CST
We Detected a Radio Signal That Repeats Every 16 Days
Don't hold out hope that it's aliens.   (Getty Images)

The paper hasn't yet been fully peer reviewed but it's grabbing headlines everywhere, and it's easy to see why. In it, researchers say that for the first line they've uncovered a pattern in a series of fast radio bursts that are originating 500 million light-years away. CNN explains the basic science: An individual radio burst is a burst of radio waves in space that lasts just a millisecond. When a number of them occur—clustered but with no regular pattern—it's called a fast radio burst, or FRB. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment/Fast Radio Burst Project collaborative team's paper concerns FRB 180916.J0158+65: It follows a 16.35-day pattern, with four days marked by a burst every hour or two, then 12 days of nothing.

That pattern held from September 16, 2018, to October 30, 2019; CNET reports the CHIME/FRB collaboration in 2018 traced its source to a huge spiral galaxy half a billion light-years away. Phys.org provides one theory: "The source could be a celestial body of some kind orbiting around a star or another body. In such a scenario, the signals would cease when they are obstructed by the other body. But that still does not explain how a celestial body could be sending out such signals on a regular basis." Space.com's observation: "For astrophysics, patterns tend to indicate rotation." If you're hoping it's aliens, MIT's Technology Review has a nice bucket of cold water for you: "Even a highly intelligent species would be very unlikely to produce ... energetic events that are on the extreme scale of the cosmos." (More space stories.)

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