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Are aliens trying to reach out? Fast Radio Bursts continue to perplex astronomers


Ever since the first fast radio burst (FRB) also known as the Lorimer burst was discovered by radio astronomers using Australia’s Parkes telescope, astronomers haven’t been able to determine what cause these bursts and with the discovery of six new FRBs, the answer is no where in sight.

The brightest ever fast radio burst dubbed FRB 150807 was discovered by a team of scientists and findings reported in November. This study came just days after another study reported having seen a fast radio burst together with an outburst of gamma rays, extremely energetic electromagnetic radiation.

Days after that a team of astronomers pored over 650 hours of archival data from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to uncover the most detailed record ever of an FRB. Their research indicates that the burst – FRB 110523 – originated inside a highly magnetized region of space, possibly linking it to a recent supernova or the interior of an active star-forming nebula.

As it stands, including the six new FRBs detected recently, as many as 24 FRBs have been detected till date. While the bursts are rare and the data isn’t enough to pin down on a specific reason, multiple theories about their origin have cropped up.

Some astronomers have suggested these brief, intense flashes are flares produced in the atmospheres of certain stars in our own Milky Way galaxy – a process similar to solar flares. Others argue they are caused by cosmic collisions such as a neutron star (a collapsed core of a large star) colliding with a black hole in a distant galaxy, or speculated that they could be alien signals.

One of the primary reasons why progress in the direction of understanding these complex bursts has been slow is that these bursts are of extremely short duration. Further telescopes provide a limited resolution of these phenomena and finally the uncertainty of the sky positions of the bursts.

If the processes driving these bursts are similar to those responsible for other cosmic explosions, such as gamma ray bursts, astronomers suspect that radiation at other wavelengths is likely to be emitted in the same event that caused the fast radio bursts. But it’s proven difficult to catch.