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Unexplained Radio Signal from 500 Million Light Years Away is Repeating Every 16 Days

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, which is instrumental in detecting radio signals originating in outer space. (Photo: CHIME Experiment Gallery)

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, which is instrumental in detecting radio signals originating in outer space. (Photo: CHIME Experiment Gallery)

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Shouvik Das
  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: February 14, 2020, 8:14 PM IST
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Earlier this week, a group of scientists revealed the detection of a repeating radio signal from outer space. While such radio signals are not entirely unprecedented, what makes the latest finding all the more interesting is that for the very first time, these radio signals appeared to repeat themselves uniformly, and in clear intervals. With outer space research always being a matter of great intrigue, the latest discovery has sparked off expected discourse among conspiracy theorists and space enthusiasts regarding a hint of extraterrestrial life.

In reality, there might be multiple explanations for the occurrence of such signals. Referred to as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), radio signals originating in space are known to only be milliseconds long, and are typically sporadic in nature. The repeating signals in question were reportedly detected by collaborating scientists between the FRB Project and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, more commonly known as the Chime telescope. According to their paper that is yet to be peer-reviewed, and has been made available to the public on Arxiv, the radio signals were detected for a consistent period between September 16, 2018 and October 30, 2019.

During the period of the repeating signals, the FRBs would be consistently received once every hour or two for a period of four days, following which things would go quiet for 12 days. The pattern would repeat itself after an exact period of 16.35 days, and the incident continued for over one year. Post discovery, the signal was assigned nomenclature of FRB 180916, and was one of eight new FRBs that we at Earth detected. The source of the signal in question is believed to be in the spiralling, star-forming arm of a galaxy that is nearly half a billion light years away.

The researchers have noted the enigma of the uniformly repeating radio signals, stating that the clue behind tracing and studying the signals further would lie in their repeating pattern. Plausible clues that have been discussed on paper include the interaction between a star's orbit and a nearby celestial body. Alternately, this might also signify a binary star unit within the galaxy's cluster, such as a dense neutron star and a massive, supergiant star. Theoretically, based on scientific observations made so far, it is possible for such binary star units to exist in unison, and generate a rhythmic signal.

While further details of the study are yet to shed light upon this rather mysterious and unexplained discovery, a portion of hopefuls would not entirely give up the dystopian melancholy of an existence such as Miller's planet from Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. Was this a last ditch, desperate attempt from a spaceship belonging to a faraway civilisation, as it traversed outer space trying to find sources of life elsewhere? Science fiction aside, the forever intriguing nature of space research means that until an occurrence is clearly studied, one may never know for sure.

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