Researchers are baffled by strange signals that have been coming from a mysterious object in a galaxy over 500 million light-years away. The signals have been coming in every 16 days, each time with the same message and pattern, but researchers have been unable to make sense of what it all means, even though they have been able to pinpoint where it is coming from.
According to a recent study, this is the first time in history that astronomers have been able to detect a pattern in these types of signals, which they call fast radio bursts, or FRBs. Previously, similar signals have been detected by researchers, but the earlier signals have come in at random times, not in a specifically timed progression as we have seen with this 16-day time period.
The pattern was first observed by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project (CHIME/FRB), who then tracked it and realized that it was repeating.
The signal has been labeled as “FRB 180916.J0158+65,” and according to researchers, these bursts can be observed for four days at a time before they stop for 12 days and then repeat again. The first 28 cycles were noticed between September of 2018 and October of last year. The signals were detected using the CHIME radio telescope in British Columbia.
“We conclude that this is the first detected periodicity of any kind in an FRB source. The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object,” the authors of the study said.
Scientists believe that the FRB is coming from a spiral galaxy known as SDSS J015800.28+654253.0, which is located half a billion light-years from Earth. This may sound like quite a long distance, and it is, but this is still the closest FRB that has ever been detected.
A different study suggests that the pattern could be consistent with that of a binary star system containing a massive star and a dense neutron star.
Avi Loeb, a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics theorist, said in a 2017 press release that “Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence.”
At this point, most researchers are not bold enough to suggest that these signals are coming from any type of intelligent life, but this possibility has not been ruled out either. After all, with so much room in the universe, and so many galaxies that humans have left to explore, there is a very good chance that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
These signals are extremely compelling also, especially because they seem to be somewhat organized due to the very specific timing in which they have been observed by scientists. However, some researchers have pointed out that it could be possible for a natural process such as a black hole to create similar signals that appear to be organized, or appear in a specific time progression.