Mystery radio signal from space that’s on 157-day cycle just woke up right on schedule

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A mysterious radio signal beamed to Earth from a distant galaxy has been detected again by astronomers.

The so-called Fast Radio Burst repeats every 157 days with the power of millions of suns and its latest barrage arrived right on time last week.

Known as FRB 121102, scientists hope that studying the strange blinkering signal could unlock the secret to what FRBs are and where they come from.

Fast Radio Bursts are intense pulses of radio waves that last no longer than the blink of an eye and come from far beyond our Milky Way galaxy.

Their origins are unknown. Some think the energetic waves are the result of cosmic explosions, while others reckon they’re signals sent by aliens.

More than 100 FRBs have been discovered to date, but only a handful have repeated and fewer still in a predictable pattern.

Recurring bursts give scientists rare chances to study the origins of FRBs.

FRB 121102 is one of only two FRBs known to regularly repeat and its cycle was described for the first time by British scientists earlier this year.

View of Earth from space.
iStockphoto

Astronomers traced its origins to a star-forming region in a dwarf galaxy three billion light-years away.

During its cycle, bursts of milliseconds-long signals are emitted for 90 days before a quiet period lasting 67 days, for a total loop length of 157 days.

Now a new study into the FRB has shed new light on its cycle and possible origins.

A team at the National Astronomy Observatory of China detected 12 bursts from FRB 121102 on August 12.

They scanned the waves using the 500-meter (1,640-foot) Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) – the world’s largest telescope – in southwest China.

The Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in southwest China’s Guizhou province.
The Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in southwest China’s Guizhou province.EPA

The group’s findings, to The Astronomer’s Telegram, suggest the burst is currently in its active phase and repeats every 156 days – not 157.

According to their paper, FRB 121102’s active phase is due to end between 31 August and 9 September 2020.

If telescopes continue to pick up bursts beyond these dates, then either its predictable pattern does not exist or has somehow evolved, they said.

Scientists urged other teams to continue taking readings of FRB 121102 in the hopes of better-understanding it.

Based on the new readings (as well as older ones) the leading theory is that the bursts are emitted by a type of neutron star called a magnetar.

The source of FRBs are still a mystery and the nature of the objects emitting them is unknown.

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