Scientists Don't Know Why This Space Radio Signal Has Been Happening For 500 Days
So, it's not exactly unusual for radio waves to be picked up from space, because - as we all know - it's big and strange out there.
However, the scientists are still completely in the dark as to the source of this, although they do understand how they work - sort of.
This particular signal sees radiation increase and then decrease over periods of 16 days, and is usually one form or other of a high-energy explosion deep in space.
These 'fast radio bursts' (FRBs) are thought to be caused by small massive objects, although there's some debate about that.
The energy can be huge, often outshining the galaxies in which they reside, but tend to fade after just a fraction of a second.
This one has been going on for 500 days now.
The catchily-titled 180916.J0158+65 FRB - discovered by the CHIME radio telescope in Canada - seems to be coming from a region in which stars are actively being formed just outside a spiral galaxy that's 500 million light years from our own.
It's the closest FRB to Earth that's been detected so far, and the most active.
Perhaps there's some link there?
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A new study discovered that it's pretty likely that this radio burst is caused by a regular event such as a rotation, or that the waves are amplified on a regular repeating pattern.
Interestingly enough, the chances that this is a random repeating signal are now pretty small.
In the journal Nature, researchers wrote: "In 38 bursts recorded from 16 September 2018 to 4 February 2020 UTC, we find that all bursts arrive in a five-day phase window, and 50 per cent of the bursts arrive in a 0.6-day [14 hour 24 minute] phase window,"
The cycle repeats every 16 days, with four loud days and 12 silent days.
Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, added: "It's the most definitive pattern we've seen from one of these sources. And it's a big clue that we can use to start hunting down the physics of what's causing these bright flashes, which nobody really understands,"
One theory is that it's caused by a neutron star that wobbles as it rotates , because it's so dense.
Another suggests that it could be a neutron star orbiting close to a black hole, allowing for matter to transfer between the two, triggering the radio waves.
That would explain the regularity, at least.
A third suggests that clouds from a nearby star magnify the strength of the signal as a body orbits within them.
Masui explained: "Maybe the source is always giving off these bursts, but we only see them when it's going through these clouds, because the clouds act as a lens,"
Basically, we've no clue. But it's out there, that's for certain.
Let's leave the scientists to figure it out, as it's hurting my head just thinking about it.
Featured Image Credit: CHIME