ARTIFICIAL intelligence searching for alien life in the universe has discovered dozens of previously unknown radio bursts.
The Breakthrough Listen program found 72 new fast radio bursts – mysterious space signals – coming from a galaxy three billion light years away.
Space scientists have been hunting for mysterious alien signals for years, but it’s difficult to find anything meaningful – space is huge, after all.
The big problem isn’t actually collecting the data, but trawling through it.
That’s why scientists enlisted artificial intelligence and machine learning tech to hunt for these signals within existing data caches. Robots work much quicker than humans.
This latest discovery came after AI dug through 400 terabytes of data collected in August last year. A single terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes, or 1million megabytes – and an hour-long BBC iPlayer programme takes up just 160 megabytes of space.
Scientists have named the source of these newly discovered signals, way outside the Milky Way galaxy, as “repeater” FRB 121102.
FRBs are single, bright pulses of radio emission from extremely distant galaxies which last just milliseconds.
But FRB 121102 is the only one ever recorded to emit repeated bursts.
Breakthrough Listen recorded 23 such bursts from FRB 121102 using the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia in 2017.
What are FRBs, and why are they important?
Here’s what you need to know…
- FRBs, or fast radio bursts, are a mysterious space phenomenon
- They’re very quick radio bursts that last just a few milliseconds (or thousandths of seconds)
- They’re detected as huge spikes of energy that change in strength over time
- The first one was discovered back in 2007, found by looking back through space survey data
- Lots of FRBs have been found since then
- There’s also one FRB source that is sending out repeated bursts – and no one is quite sure why
- In fact, scientists have struggled to explain exactly what causes any FRB in the first place
- Theories include rapidly rotating neutron stars, black holes, and even alien life
- FRBs are important simply because they’re so baffling to experts
- Unlocking the secrets of what causes them will give us a much better understanding of what goes on beyond our galaxy
- And if it does turn out that some other life-form is causing these FRBs, it would be a world-changing discovery
The source of FRBs are still a mystery and the nature of the object emitting them is still unknown.
Theories range from highly magnetised neutron stars and super-massive black holes to signs of an advanced civilisation.
Gerry Zhang, a PhD student at the University of Berkeley, developed a powerful learning algorithm to re-analyse the 2017 GBT data-set.
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They found an additional 72 bursts that were not detected originally.
Zhang’s team used some of the same techniques that internet technology companies use to optimise search results and classify images.
Just as the patterns from pulsars helped astronomers understand extreme physical conditions in such objects, the new measurements of FRBs will help figure out what powers these enigmatic sources.
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