Several radio telescopes around the world have picked up mysterious signals from outer space, sparking debate whether the transmission could be a message from aliens.
Astronomers searching for signals from alien civilizations have detected 15 powerful, repeated radio pulses coming from a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light years away from Earth.
The source of the mysterious signals, known as fast radio bursts, is unknown. Some have proposed they could be originating from black holes or rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields. A more speculative possibility is that they are beacons from extraterrestrial spacecraft.
The signals were picked up by the Breakthrough Listen project, a $100m (£77m) initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe set up by Professor Stephen Hawking and Russian internet billionaire Yuri Milner.
The Breakthrough Listen project is an attempt to find signs of intelligent life in the Universe and it recently detected 15 brief but powerful pulses from the mysterious galaxy. Fast radio bursts are detected throughout the Universe but FRB 121102 is the only one known to repeat. Over time, more than 150 high-energy bursts have been detected from the region.
Astronomers often “listen in” on FRB 121102, but this is the first time they’ve spotted activity at this peak. “Bursts from this source have never been seen at this high a frequency,” said Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and of the Breakthrough Listen program, takes with catching and interpreting signals from space, including alien messages.
The high resolution of the data should hopefully allow the Breakthrough Listen team to measure the properties of the radio emission more accurately than ever before, according to one of its postdoctoral researchers Vishal Gajjar.
Launched on Monday at the Royal Society in London, with the Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking, the Breakthrough Listen project has some of the world’s leading experts at the helm. Among them are Lord Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, Geoff Marcy, who has discovered more planets beyond the solar system than anyone, and the veteran US astronomer Frank Drake, a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti).
Stephen Hawking said the effort was “critically important” and raised hopes for answering the question of whether humanity has company in the universe. “It’s time to commit to finding the answer, to search for life beyond Earth,” he said. “Mankind has a deep need to explore, to learn, to know. We also happen to be sociable creatures. It is important for us to know if we are alone in the dark.”