Category: fast radio bursts

One Cosmic Mystery Illuminates Another, As Fast Radio Burst Intercepts A Galactic Halo

“Although scientists have studied [Fast Radio Bursts] intensely since their discovery, their origins remain mysterious. Meanwhile, an estimated 2 trillion galaxies populate our observable Universe. With incredibly large distances for FRBs to traverse, each one risks passing through an intervening galaxy. Giving off multiple pulses of under 40 microseconds apiece, FRB 181112 became the first burst to intercept a galactic halo.”

Where do fast radio bursts come from? Recent studies have demonstrated that they’re associated with host galaxies, but we don’t understand how they work, why some of them repeat, or why the pulse durations are so variable.

What about galactic halos: how much gas is in them? What is the gas temperature, density, magnetization, etc.? These are big questions about galaxies in general that we don’t have a general picture of. If only there were some way to learn more.

How about luck? We got lucky, in November of 2018, when for the first time a fast radio burst passed through a foreground galaxy’s halo. What did we learn? Come get (and see) the full story!

Five reasons why the signals from Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Initiative aren’t aliens

“In 2012, a series of nine bursts were observed by both the Very Large Array and Arecibo, four of which were seen simultaneously. For the first time, this allowed us to pinpoint the location of a FRB’s source: a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light years away. Last month’s reinvestigation discovered a series of 15 repeating FRBs from the same source, each lasting under 300 microseconds. Is it advanced, powerful aliens? There are five reasons why that’s likely untrue.”

Whenever we detect a signal that we can’t immediately explain, it’s a very human trait to ascribe our greatest hopes (or fears) to it. In the case of a peculiar radio signal originating from deep space, that means the wildest speculations will involve intelligent aliens. But as much as many of us would hope that such a thing would be true, the physical properties of these fast radio bursts, even though they’re repeating, tell us otherwise. With an estimated 10,000 of them occurring on a daily basis, and with power some 10^19 times as great as the strongest radio signal ever generated by humanity, and with known astrophysical sources that can naturally generate signals of this magnitude and frequency, it’s completely unreasonable to think this has anything to do with aliens. Still, the science alone is interesting enough to warrant not only investigation, but a remarkable sense of wonder.

Here are the five top reasons why we can be very certain that the signals from Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Initiative aren’t aliens!