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Are aliens playing 'Marco Polo' with us? Scientists inspecting 'fast radio bursts' from space

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Not unlike those early scenes from Independence Day, scientists have detected 25 mysterious “fast radio bursts” (FRBs) from the deep stretches of outer space.

These powerful radiation blasts are perfectly common astronomical occurrences and generally assumed to derive from dying stars, but the repeated nature of these bursts -- all coming from specific locations in deep space -- led scientists to speculate on the possibility of extraterrestrial signalling. These FRBs could offer astronomers new information about what dwells in far away galaxies beyond our reach.

The repeating bursts, containing 10 times the annual energy consumption of the entire world population, were picked up by an advanced telescope with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) between 2019 and 2021, along with countless other non-repeating FRBs that do not seem to follow an identifiable pattern.

The bursts under investigation are mysterious, University of Toronto astronomers say, because they derive from the same location in space and are repeating in similar ways.

“We can now accurately calculate the probability that two or more bursts coming from similar locations are not just a coincidence,” explains Ziggy Pleunis, a Dunlap Postdoctoral Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, in a University of Toronto news release. “These new tools were essential for this study, and will also be very useful for similar research going forward.”

The new 25 repeated FRBs brought the total of suspicious repeated bursts to 50. They are predicted to be about 400 light years away.

When scientists are able to study bursts from a single location, they are able to gather specific data that can reveal locked-away insights about regions of space—and its potential for hosting intelligent life-forms in distant galaxies. Plenuis explained that by studying the source of an FRB in detail, scientists can trace the stages of a star’s life and learn about the material that’s being expelled.

“It is exciting that CHIME/FRB saw multiple flashes from the same locations, as this allows for the detailed investigation of their nature,” Adaeze Ibik, a PhD student in the at the University of Toronto, also said in the news release. “We were able to hone in on some of these repeating sources and have already identified likely associated galaxies for two of them.”

Pleunis added that the discovery of there being some sort of pattern brings us closer to understanding what FRBs are.

While they don't yet know whether this is evidence of something comparable to ET phoning home, Pleunis says the discovery of patterns is promising, and there are even further reaching implications yet to be determined.

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