POWERFUL signals are being beamed in Earth’s direction from deep space at an unprecedented rate.
According to scientists, a repeating fast radio burst source discovered last year was recorded firing more than 1,800 bursts our way within the space of two months.
The hyperactive nature of the burst allowed researchers to pinpoint its host galaxy and source.
Named FRB 20201124A, the object was detected using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in China.
It was described in a paper led by astronomer Heng Xu of Peking University in China.
Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are a mysterious space phenomenon.
The high-intensity emissions usually last only for a fraction of a second and their origins were unknown until recently.
There have been a few thousand caught by scientists since the first was detected in 2007.
All FRBs are unusual, but the newly discovered one was especially odd.
Over 82 hours of observation spread over two months, according to the paper published in Nature, FAST detected 1,863 bursts.
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Its polarisation and signal strength swung wildly, making it the first FRB to show these kinds of variations in its waves, study author Fayin Wang of Nanjing University told Inverse.
The evidence so far points to its source being a magnetar, a neutron star with a powerful magnetic field.
However, the way its polarisation changed over time suggested another object may be contributing to the signals.
“These observations brought us back to the drawing board,” said astrophysicist Bing Zhang of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“It is clear that FRBs are more mysterious than what we have imagined. More multi-wavelength observational campaigns are needed to further unveil the nature of these objects.”
Almost all FRBs detected so far have come from too far away to clearly make out where they originated.
Only a handful have repeated, and fewer still in a predictable pattern.
This makes them notoriously difficult to study, meaning their origins have eluded scientists for over a decade.
It’s thought the signals come from huge explosions in deep space that fade away in less than a second.
In 2020, researchers said they had pinpointed radio flares coming from an object known as a magnetar.
Magnetars are a type of neutron star with a hugely powerful magnetic field – only a handful of them are thought to be present in the Milky Way.
Physicists have previously speculated that magnetars might produce FRBs but there was no evidence to prove that was the case.
It means the signals don’t come from alien civilisations, a theory touted by some UFO hunters but dismissed by scientists.
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