China’s biggest radio telescope picked up over 100 mysterious signals from outer space
BEIJING: China’s largest radio telescope has been picking up mysterious signals from outer space. It’s been detecting what are known as ‘FRBs’ (Fast Radio Bursts) which are small pulses of radio waves originating out in the cosmos.
The source of the signals is unknown but they are believed to be coming from a region of space around three billion light years from Earth. The 500-meter fixed diameter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, nicknamed Tianyan, is located Guizhou, southwest China. Officials say it’s picked up over 100 FRBs since late August, all coming from this same source – designated FRB121102. Experts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences are currently analysing and cross-checking these signals to try and understand more about where they come from. It’s currently believed that FSBs are created by certain processes out in deep space, rather than from any kind of alien technology. The mysterious signals come from a region of space three billion light years away (Shutterstock) Most are ‘one-offs” but a small amount are ‘repeaters’ which recur in the same place. One prevailing theory is the radio bursts are a side effect of neutron stars colliding with black holes. Another suggests they are produced by so-called ‘magnetars’ – neutron stars with incredibly powerful magnetic fields. But that was called into question back in July when a new burst was picked up and attributed to a spiral galaxy 7.9 billion light years away that resembles our own Milky Way. A team of stargazers used the Australian Square Kilometer Array to pinpoint the origins of a burst called FRB 190523. ‘This finding tells us that every galaxy, even a run-of-the-mill galaxy like our Milky Way, can generate an FRB,’ said Vikram Ravi, assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech. ‘Finding the locations of the one-off FRBs is challenging because it requires a radio telescope that can both discover these extremely short events and locate them with the resolving power of a mile-wide radio dish.’ ‘The theory that FRBs come from magnetars was developed in part because the earlier FRB 121102 came from an active star-forming environment, where young magnetars can be formed in the supernovae of massive stars,’ added Ravi. ‘But the host galaxy of FRB 190523 is more mellow in comparison.’ Astronomers have been picking up FRBs for decades (Swinburne) If ever there was going to be a telescope that uncovered the mystery of FRBs it would be China’s new radio telescope – it’s the largest and most sensitive radio observatory ever constructed. The telescope’s considerable observational power will be used by astronomers from various nations to study such phenomena as exoplanets, gravitational waves and ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. However, the addition of a highly-sensitive secondary system to the giant telescope has enabled it to detect fast radio bursts with high efficiency and in real time at the same time as undertaking over observation tasks. It is expected that Tianyan will allow researchers to pinpoint the origins of these mysterious pulses with significantly greater accuracy. Chinese researchers say they will continue to monitor burst from FRB121102 to gather as much information on the source of these pulses as possible.