China's Huge Telescope Detects Strange Signals from Deep Space

By Matthew Bossons, September 9, 2019

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China’s super-massive Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) has picked up repeated strange signals from the dark abyss of space.

According to China Daily, the signals are ‘fast radio bursts’ (FRB) and are coming from a source known as FRB121102, which is located a mind-boggling 3 billion light years away and was first detected in 2012.

In the short period from late August till the start of September, more than 100 FRB were detected coming from FRB121102 – the highest number ever noticed (so far, anyway).

Now, we know what you’re wondering: What the f*ck is a fast radio burst? Let us default to the fine folks at Sciencealert.com:

“[FRBs] are detected [in radio astronomy] as spikes in radio data, lasting just a few milliseconds. But, in that time, they can discharge more energy than 500 million Suns. Most FRBs are only detected once and can’t be predicted, so tracing them back to their source is really tricky … That’s why repeaters are so important.”

Chinese researchers detected the tidal wave of signals from FRB121102 after installing a super-sensitive “FRB backend on a 19-beam receiver,” according to China Daily, and astronomers are currently reexamining and cross-checking their findings.

READ MORE: China's Massive Telescope and the Global Quest to Find Aliens

No one is sure of the source of FRBs, and theories range from black holes and pulsars to the ever-intriguing idea of extraterrestrial messages.

Now that the significance of FRB121102 is fully apparent, FAST will be undertaking further monitoring of the burst, which is coming from a dwarf galaxy in the constellation Auriga, according to a 2017 article by CNN. Astronomers in China are also encouraging their colleagues around the world to monitor the burst at their research facilities.

While FRB121102 was the only known repeating FRB for over half a decade, in January of this year another was discovered – FRB180814. Since then, eight new repeaters have been detected, bringing the total of repeating FRBs to 10, according to ScienceNews.

READ MORE: China Has Found Something Weird on the Moon’s Far Side

[Cover image via Jill Barron]

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