Breakthrough Listen, a scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth, has detected fifteen fast radio bursts (FRBs) from a dwarf galaxy about three billion light years away.
Brief, bright pulses of radio emissions from distant galaxies, FRBs could be nothing more than outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields, although some believe they are directed energy sources used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft. Using the Breakthrough Listen backend instrument at the Robert C. Bird Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the recently detected FRBs were identified as emanating from the mysterious "repeater" FRB121102, which was first discovered in November 2012 by Australia's CSIRO Parkes Telescope and was detected again in 2015, making it the first FRB observed to repeat and ruling out theories that the bursts originated from the catastrophic destruction of a progenitor. In 2016, FRB 121102 became the first FRB to have its location pinpointed with sufficient precision to allow its host galaxy to be identified.
In addition to confirming that the source of the emissions is in a newly active state, the data obtained by the Breakthrough team will enable it to measure the properties of the new FRBs at a greater level of precision than was previously possible. The observations also demonstrate that FRBs emit at higher frequencies, with the brightest emission occurring at around 7GHz than previously observed. According to the Breakthrough team, our own solar system was just two billion years old and life on Earth consisted of only single-celled organisms when the recently detected pulses left their host galaxy.
Launched in 2015 with a $100 million investment from Russian venture capitalist and Breakthrough Prizes founder Yuri Milner, in partnership with cosmologist Stephen Hawking, Breakthrough Listen is a global astronomical initiative working to find evidence of intelligent life in the universe.