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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

(Newser) – 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." (Read more space stories.)

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