In less than a year, a new radio telescope in Canada picked up a strange signal.
Located in British Columbia, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope detects signals traveling through the vacuum of space. Most often, radio telescopes do not hear anything unusual, but sometimes some inexplicable signal breaks through the noise. This is exactly what happened on July 25th.
The Astronomer’s Telegram tells how the new telescope detected a Fast Radio Burst (FRB). Fast radio bursts are not uncommon, but are considered special because it is not known what their sources are. FRBs recorded by astronomers on Earth travel incredibly long distances from sources so far in space that we cannot see them.
The fast radio burst recorded now (called FRB 180725A) is especially unique as it was detected at a rather low frequency of 580 MHz. Previously, none of the "heard" FRBs were below 700 MHz.
Dynamic spectrum graph after dedispersion to DM = 716.6 pc cm−3 / CHIME
Despite the fact that FRBs are radio signals, they do not contain any information that would be useful to researchers or astronomers. Some have put forward theories that they were created by super-developed alien civilizations, but so far this remains a sci-fi speculation. The most likely version of the origin of fast radio bursts is the variable activity of a black hole, and maybe the merger of two black holes.
For example, FRB 121102 has been registered repeatedly over the years. Astronomers are sure that this is the same radio burst, since each time it came from the same point in space. It is believed to originate from a galaxy located about three billion light-years from Earth. It is impossible to imagine how much energy is needed for a radio signal to travel such a path.
In any case, whether it is a merger of black holes, a star explosion, or just a noisy alien party, we will have to be patient while science gives an exact answer about how fast radio bursts occur.