Scientists are probing the extraterrestrial source of incredibly powerful radio blasts. They are one of the most strange phenomena we know.

We don’t know much about these signals. However, scientists now have suggested that they are coming from an “extreme” environment. The signals might come from a dense stellar core called a neutron star near an extraordinarily powerful magnetic field, such as one near a massive black hole.

“We estimate the magnetic field and gas density surrounding the blast source, and we can link them, for example, with a model involving a young magnetar – a neutron star with an especially large magnetic field – to the central engine that produces the bursts,” said James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs)

FRBs are intense pulses of radio waves lasting just milliseconds. Despite their short duration, they can give off more energy in a fraction of a second than the sun does in hours, days or weeks.

Astronomers discovered FRBs for the first time in 2007. Researchers have currently discovered around 20 FRBs in the last decade. However, such flashes might occur as many as 10,000 times a day across the entire sky, researchers wrote in the study.

In 2016, scientists discovered an FRB called FRB 121102 which can explode over and over again. So, this finding suggests that these kinds of signals don’t come from some one-time cataclysmic event.

It’s highly unlikely that this story has to do something with aliens. However, astronomers involved in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence are keenly observing the research.

“We can not rule out completely the ET hypothesis for the FRBs in general,” said Vishal Gajjar, one of the scientists on the project and a SETI researcher.

Observing the FRB 121102

FRB 121102 is located in a star-forming region of a dwarf galaxy which lies about 3 billion light-years from Earth. To analyze data on 16 bursts from the object, scientists used the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

The scientists detailed their findings in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Nature.

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Thumbnail credit: Artist impression of a fast radio burst reaching Earth. Credit: Jingchuan Yu, Beijing Planetarium