space
A panoramic view of a vast, sculpted area of gas and dust where thousands of stars are being born 170,000 light-years from Earth as captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. NASA, N. Walborn and J. Ma`iz-Apell`aniz (Space Telescope Science Institute), R. Barb`a (La Plata Observatory, La Plata, Argentina)

  • Scientists have discovered "mysterious," regularly recurring signals from an unidentified source 500 million light-years away, according to a new study.
  • The signal comes from a "fast radio burst" (FRB). FRBs are typically very difficult to locate.
  • But there's still nothing to suggest that they're being caused by aliens.
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Deep in outer space, in a spiral galaxy 500 million light-years away, radio signals are being emitted from an unidentified source.

That's according to a new study by a team of astrophysicists in Canada that identified what is called a "fast radio burst" (FRB), or a small radio emission from outer space. The FRB that researchers found has a regular 16-day repeat cycle.

FRBs are typically difficult to locate, let alone study scientifically. Since 2007, only 10 such signals have been identified as repeating themselves.

This latest FRB is among the first that scientists have found to emit signals at a regular interval, and it is "the first time scientists have been able to see a specific tempo from one of these mysterious signals," according to the MIT Technology Review.

"The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object," the scientists said in the article. The source of the signal was first detected in September 2018.

The researchers observed the source for 13 months, detecting 28 additional signal-bursts. Based on their evidence, they determined the signal's regular cycle to be just over 16 days.

The source of these "mysterious signals" is unknown

According to MIT Technology Review journalist Neel Patel, the source could be a celestial body orbiting another object - "such as a low-mass black hole."

A separate team of researchers examined the data on the 16-day FRB, and suggested that it could be the result of a binary system, with two massive stars orbiting each other.

It could also be "nothing more than the noise created when two stars collide," according to Phys, a science-news website.

So: Are they aliens?

That seems unlikely.

The signals themselves indicate massive energy shifts in the universe. According to Patel, it's hard to imagine even aliens creating those.

"There is no detectable pattern so far that would suggest there's a sentient hand at play," Patel wrote. "Even a highly intelligent species would be very unlikely to produce energies like this."

The mystery isn't atypical for a discovery like this. Astrophysicists regularly detect radio signals from deep space without being able to identify their source.

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