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Is anyone there? Scientists are receiving mysterious radio signals from deep space. Could these be signs of alien life?

Are we finally closer to answering the question that has troubled humanity since the start of time: Are we all alone in the universe?

 |  4-minute read |   11-01-2019
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Since we first started to look up, human beings have been obsessed with the majestic skies that exist above us. Even though we've evolved our understanding of the cosmos over the past centuries, the reality is that we barely comprehend the many mysteries this vast expanse holds within it. 

However, the biggest of these mysteries is – are we all alone in the universe?

This is the never-ending question that holds within it the answer to man's existential dread.

One that is not only of great significance to science but also philosophy and religion as it would, in one fell swoop, answer if man is truly God's special creation – or just a consequence of some cosmic event that took place billions of years ago.

As it stands, we're nowhere near answering this question.

Or, are we?

aliens_080317071824_011119032026.jpgAre the aliens finally arriving? (Photo: Facebook)

Radio waves from deep space

As per a new discovery, published in the journal Nature, astronomers at the CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) have detected mysterious radio signals from an unknown location believed to be in deep space.

However, these aren't your usual everyday radio signals, carrying with it a rap number composed in some alien tongue billions of light years away. Rather, these are millisecond-long notes of radio pulses, called 'fast radio bursts' or FRBs. What's more interesting is that one of the FRBs recorded by CHIME was repeating in nature and is claimed to have repeated six times from the same location.

Now, even though FRBs in themselves remain an unexplained phenomenon, the fact that this is only the second time in history that scientists have ever recorded repeating ones has sent the scientific world – and conspiracy theorists – in a frenzy. 

But before we try and answer if the repeating FRBs are indeed a signal from an intelligent life form living billions of light years away, let's try and understand what FRBs really are. 

What are FRBs anyway?

From our limited understanding, we know that FRBs are extremely short and high-powered bursts of radio energy that were first observed in 2007. These are not more than a few milliseconds and are not concentrated from a specific part of the cosmos. 

Prior to CHIME's announcement, scientists had recorded about 50-60 FRBs in the last 10 years – of which only one had ever repeated itself.

However, CHIME has now added 13 additional FRBs and a second repeater to the list. 

But what's interesting is that CHIME's observatory has shown such good results despite not even operating at full sensitivity as it is only in the commissioning phases right now. Scientists claim that when the facility is performing to full capacity, it could observe many dozens of FRBs per day.

This is because CHIME's telescope is quite advanced in comparison to the ones that were being used before, and operates in the lower ranges of 400 MHz – the next one was at 700 MHz.

Bringing us to the all-important question.

Are these FRBs really anything special? 

space1_011119031950.jpgSo, is anyone else out there? (Photo: Facebook)

Sign of ET life?

As explained above, FRBs remain a largely unexplained phenomenon, and astronomers appear no closer to deciphering it. 

One of the astronomers involved in the discovery, Deborah Good, said to Nature that they do not have nearly enough data to even begin explaining what makes FRBs. She said, "If we had 1,000 examples, we would be able to say many more things about what FRBs are like".

But, from whatever little data exists, most scientists do not believe that FRBs are attempts by aliens to contact us. And the reason for that is the fact that they are spread across the entire cosmos, with origin points usually located billions of lightyears away from one another. 

As such, scientists believe that FRBs have a natural origin, and because of its short few millisecond-long duration, could possibly be the consequence of the merging of neutron stars. Others say these could even be the result of flares emitted by magnetars –  highly magnetic neutron stars.

There are even farfetched explanations that say FRBs are radio pulses of extreme energy that are created when a black hole explodes. 

But, as it stands, all of these answers stem from the realm of possibility.

And as science itself would tell you, this particular realm is one of endless potential. And impossibilities.

As such, till it's proven otherwise, these FRBs could be like the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment – rumblings of an alien Honey Singh, rapping on in a distant galaxy for the conspiracy theorists out there, while still remaining nothing more than the final goodbyes of a dying black hole for dismissive scientists.

Who's to know?

Also read: World's largest brain-mimicking computer goes live, but should we be excited?

Writer

Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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