Scientists stumped by mysterious pattern of radio signals from distant galaxy

A series of high-frequency radio signals from a remote galaxy has astronomers puzzled as to what could be creating them, CBC News reported Thursday.
By Josh Curlee | Sep 04, 2017
A series of high-frequency radio signals from a remote galaxy has astronomers puzzled as to what could be creating them, CBC News reported Thursday. The radio sequence, which appeared in data collected from the Green Bank radio-telescope array in West Virginia, shows a repeating pattern and an intensity of frequency unlike anything that researchers on Earth have ever seen, the telescope site's research team said.

Telescopes on Earth pick up Frequent Radio Bursts, or FRBs, such as this one while scanning distant galaxies. Scientists usually attribute them to black holes or to pulsars, high-density objects that spin rapidly and emit powerful radio waves.

Green Bank researchers have been observing this FRB for the past few years, according to Paul Scholz, an astronomer who studies FRBs with the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, B.C. But their curiosity peaked in early August, he added, when a sequence of 15 more signals came in that were higher-frequency than any preceding transmissions.

This FRB defies the usual patterns for pulsar signals, the research team reported: Pulsars emit signals in a smooth fashion across many frequencies, which this one does not.

"It's a mystery that needs to be solved," Scholz told CBC News.

The researchers have dubbed the sequence FRB 121102 and estimate that it left its host galaxy when Earth was only two billion years old, half its current age. It is possible that the irregular pattern in the signals is just distortion that emerged over the distance through space, Scholz said.

British Columbia will unveil a new telescope in the coming months called the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment and use it to more closely study FRBs. Scholz said he looks forward to what it may discover.

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