Alien-hunting scientists aim to unravel mysterious signals from space

A unique radio signal was recently sent that sounded similar to a slide-whistle music instrument

Researchers have used the Allen Telescope Array to study mysterious signals from space. Photo: Seti Institute
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A team of scientists dedicated to the search for alien life are aiming to decode a series of mysterious radio signals beamed from space.

Researchers at the Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute carried out more than 541 hours of observation of fast radio bursts (FRB), which are intense flashes of radio waves from deep space.

The researchers used the Allen Telescope Array – radio telescopes in California that are used to find alien life – to study FRB 20220912A, a radio burst discovered in 2022 that has been repeatedly sending signals.

Latest findings from the 35 radio waves that were detected revealed their mysterious behaviour, including an unexpected sound similar to a slide-whistle owing to a drop in the centre frequency of the bursts.

A study with the findings was published recently in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal.

"This work is exciting because it provides both confirmation of known FRB properties and the discovery of some new ones,” said Dr Sofia Sheikh of the Seti Institute.

“We're narrowing down the source of FRBs, for example, to extreme objects such as magnetars [a neuron star], but no existing model can explain all of the properties that have been observed so far."

Radio bursts confound experts

Fast radio bursts have puzzled scientists since they were first discovered in 2007.

They last only milliseconds and are difficult to observe, unless special equipment is used, such as the Allen Telescope Array.

There is not a lot of data on the bursts and scientists still do not know exactly what causes them.

Researchers say that studying magnetars could help to solve the mystery, because they also emit strong radiation bursts as the stars spin.

The study also investigated the time patterns of the bursts, with researchers hoping there would be some kind of repetition within the FRBs.

But no pattern was found, which showed that the bursts are unpredictable and can take place randomly.

Updated: December 20, 2023, 11:22 AM