Mystery space signals spark alien speculation
Astronomers in Australia have confirmed that a series of mysterious radio bursts - whose precise origin is unknown - started in outer space and were not man-made.
The so-called fast radio bursts - intense flashes of radio light that last for just milliseconds - were first detected at Australia's Parkes telescope in 2007.
There had long been speculation that the signals could be the result of interference with other signals on Earth. This theory appeared to gain traction when it emerged two years ago that a series of similar signals were actually caused by a microwave oven in the facility's kitchen.
To try to trace the origins of the fast radio bursts, astronomers spent two years overhauling the Molonglo radio telescope, near Canberra.
The telescope was suited to detecting these bursts because it has a large collecting area and a broad field of view. "Because of the telescope's characteristics, we're 100pc sure the bursts came from space," said researcher Manish Caleb, who works at Swinburne University in Melbourne.
Astronomers have detected about 20 fast radio bursts at several telescopes around the world. The next challenge is to find more bursts and identify precisely where they originated.
This could help unravel the bursts' most baffling feature: their source. There has been speculation that they could be the exhaust from a massive alien structure such as a space travel device.
A new burst, called FRB 160410, is believed to be the closest yet detected.
"We want to . . . see if it repeats," said Professor Matthew Bailes, from Swinburne University.
"If it did, that would give us a better chance to pin down its location." (© Daily Telegraph, London)