Scientists Discover Mystery Radio Signal Coming From Outer Space

( Earlier this month, astronomers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced they detected a “persistent radio signal” coming from a galaxy far, far away that appears to be flashing “with surprising regularity.”

The signal is classified as a “fast radio burst” or FRB which is an intensely strong burst of radio waves of unknown astrophysical origin.

Typically, fast radio bursts last for only a few milliseconds, but this latest signal persists for up to three seconds, making it approximately one thousand times longer than the average FRB.

Within the three-second window, the astronomers detected bursts of radio waves in a clear periodic pattern that repeated every 0.2 seconds like a beating heart.

The signal’s source lies in a distant galaxy several billion light-years from Earth. While the exact source of the signal remains a mystery, the astronomers suspect it could emanate from a neutron star like a radio pulsar or a magnetar.

In other words, it probably isn’t little gray men sending a message to Earth.

But even so, MIT post-doctoral researcher Daniele Michilli said given the duration of the FRB, this new signal “could be a magnetar or pulsar on steroids.” She said typically, astronomers are unable to see neutron star radio waves from other galaxies because they are not energetic or luminous enough to be detected.

“This is the first time where we may have detected a neutron star from so far away,” Michilli added.

Neutron stars are extremely dense, rapidly spinning collapsed cores of giant stars. As a neutron star rotates, it releases radio waves that produce a beamed emission like a lighthouse.

These fast radio bursts were first discovered in 2007. Since then, hundreds of similar FRBs have been detected across the universe, though most of them are “one-offs.”

The MIT team hopes to detect more periodic radio bursts from the signal they labeled FRB 20191221A which they could then use as an astrophysical clock. It is possible the frequency of the bursts and how they change as the source moves away from the Earth might be used to measure the rate at which the universe expands.