First detected in 2007 at the Parkes Observatory in the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs have kept radio astronomers busy searching for their mysterious origin.
FRBs differ from other radio noise because of the intensity and short length of transmission. Imagine a sudden bright flash of light but you are unable to determine where it came from. Some of the bursts released the equivalent energy of 500 million suns.
Part of the problem is that radio telescopes though dish-shaped can pick up signals from the ground as well as space. In one famous case, scientists detected a curious repeating transmission. It wasn’t until many years later that they determined the source was the microwave in the staff kitchen.
Back to FRBs.
Over the years bursts would continue to confound and frustrate scientists. That all changed late last year when researchers went to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to use the Molonglo telescope.
This telescope, run by the University of Sidney, unlike single dish telescopes, is constructed of two intersecting arms each a mile long forming a cross. The very architecture of the site eliminates signals from the ground.
The massive telescope has been in operation for 50 years and in that time it has collected a great deal of information at a rate of 1 TB a day and should have recorded many FRBs. Realizing this the scientists sifted through the collected data of the telescope knowing that any detected signals would have to originate from space.
Months passed as they searched through the massive amount of stellar data. They eventually found a repeating signal from a tiny dwarf galaxy 3 million light-years from us.
The finding has brought renewed interest in the telescope and astronomers are updating the software in hopes of finding new discoveries.
But don’t get too excited, 3 million light-years means the signal was sent 3 million years ago. The civilization that sent it is probably long dead or so advanced that they might not even recognize a reply.
So, we continue to search for E.T. even though we might not know what they are saying.