Holy Aliens, Batman! There’s aliens! Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit premature in my declaration, but there is something strange out there in space, something even stranger than the known strange (which, it is a given, is probably a tiny slice of the actual strange that we still don’t even have words to describe kinda strange).
There is a signal that seems to potentially be indicating intelligence, and SETI is ON THE CASE!
Recent observations of a mysterious and distant object that emits intermittent bursts of radio waves so bright that they’re visible across the universe provide new data about the source but fail to clear up the mystery of what causes them.
The observations by the Breakthrough Listen team at UC Berkeley using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia show that the fast radio bursts from this object, called FRB 121102, are nearly 100 percent linearly polarized, an indication that the source of the bursts is embedded in strong magnetic fields like those around a massive black hole.
The measurements confirm observations by another team of astronomers from the Netherlands, which detected the polarized bursts using the William E. Gordon Telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
Both teams will report their findings during a media briefing on Jan. 10 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. The results are detailed in a combined paper to be published online the same day by the journal Nature.
Fast radio bursts are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant but so far unknown sources, and FRB 121102 is the only one known to repeat: more than 200 high-energy bursts have been observed coming from this source, which is located in a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth.
The nearly 100 percent polarization of the radio bursts is unusual, and has only been seen in radio emissions from the extreme magnetic environments around massive black holes, such as those at the centers of galaxies. The Dutch and Breakthrough Listen teams suggest that the fast radio bursts may come from a highly magnetized rotating neutron star – a magnetar – in the vicinity of a massive black hole that is still growing as gas and dust fall into it.