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Astronomers Record Mystery Radio Signals From 5.5 Billion Light Years Away 121

sarahnaomi writes For the first time ever, astronomers have captured an enormous radio wave burst in real time, bringing us one step closer to understanding their origins. These fleeting eruptions, called blitzars or FRBs (Fast Radio Bursts), are truly bizarre cosmic phenomena. In the span of a millisecond, they emit as much radiation as the Sun does over a million years. But unlike other super-luminous events that span multiple wavelengths—gamma ray bursts or supernovae, for example—blitzars emit all that energy in a tiny band of the radio light spectrum. Adding to the mystery is the rarity of blitzar sightings. Since these bursts were first discovered in 2007 with Australia's Parkes Telescope, ten have been identified, the latest of which was the first to be imaged in real time.
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Astronomers Record Mystery Radio Signals From 5.5 Billion Light Years Away

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  • by beheaderaswp ( 549877 ) * on Monday January 19, 2015 @05:38PM (#48852153)

    This is obviously an advanced data stream which we are intercepting. Civilizations who do not have control over quantum entanglement, Use compressed radio bursts at unbelievable magnitude to transfer massive amounts of information across multiple civilizations simultaneously.

    This has been known for about 10 years. But suppressed due to it;s sensitive nature.

    Attempts to decode the messages have only been marginally successful. The one small decoded message translated into English is roughly: "Never going to give..."

    The rest of the message can only be guessed at.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @05:44PM (#48852187)

    No worries ladies and gents. Just some black hole or star being absorbed into a circle of more stable vacuum than the twitchy sort of vacuum we have over here. Move along. Move along. There's literally nothing to see there.

    • No worries ladies and gents. Just some black hole or star being absorbed into a circle of more stable vacuum than the twitchy sort of vacuum we have over here. Move along. Move along. There's literally nothing to see there.

      C'mon, there's got to be some highly implausible yet scientific sounding explanation that blames it on a time hole to the future slamming shut. Right? Maybe Elon Musk has been working on a time portal, but he hasn't quite figured out how to make it appear close enough to be usable?

    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:15PM (#48852359)

      Now now, we all know vacuum stabilization events travel out from their sources at the speed of light, if it were to happen it would be against the laws of physics to see it coming.

      More interesting is one of the actual proposed explanations. A massive spinning magnetron gradually slowing down until centrifugal force can't keep it from collapsing into a black hole anymore. And when the source of the magnetic field suddenly gets cut off from the outside universe by being engulfed by the event horizon, the magnetic field has no where to go but... out. The most powerful magnetic field in the universe getting converted almost instantly to energy; creating a spark that lasts seconds and outputs more energy than the sun has in the past million years.

      • Since I'm engaged in humorous speculation, I posit that stable vacuum events are either limited in size and scope or that they travel at less than C, or both.

        Speaking of which, does the inside of a black hole qualify as a more stable type of vacuum? Being a fairly ignorant sort, can a physics guy out there enlighten me?

        • Since I'm engaged in humorous speculation, I posit that stable vacuum events are either limited in size and scope or that they travel at less than C, or both.

          Great! As a physicist, I eagerly look forward to your supporting math to back up those posits which contradict the math I have already seen.

      • by Urkki ( 668283 )

        A massive spinning magnetron gradually slowing down until centrifugal force can't keep it from collapsing into a black hole anymore.

        If you te going to make that much popcorn, you probably should not use microwave owen anyway. Use a kettle, it's cheaper, tastes better, and easier to get seasoning and butter just right.

      • creating a spark that lasts seconds and outputs more energy than the sun has in the past million years.

        Actually it lasts only about a millisecond, but the 1 MYears of solar output part is right. It's about the mass of the moon converted to RF energy in
        1 ms.

        • That figure reminds me of how harold white's warp drive initially required the mass of jupiter in energy to operate. That energy output seems like it would be ideal for such an alien technology, not that I ever expect to find proof.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @05:45PM (#48852199) Journal
    I felt a great disturbance, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible had happened 5.5 billion light years away.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Speed Metal is life

    • by mekkab ( 133181 )
      as someone who saw Carcass and Obituary in Nov, and who is about to see Napalm Death (and Voivod, and Black Crown Initiate, and Ringworm, and ...)... WTF does your post have to do with anything?

      OH!

      You're saying that these intense, but short, broadcasts are examples of interstellar speed metal; a-la Napalm Death's sub-second song "You Suffer" ... ?

      then say so!
  • by Chess_the_cat ( 653159 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @05:55PM (#48852263) Homepage
    "“In real time here means, ‘as soon as the burst radiation arrives on the Earth,’” astronomer Daniele Malesani, co-author of a new paper about the discovery, told me over email. " So, not in real time then. "Astronomers record mystery signals" isn't as exciting though is it?
    • Okay - how about "Radiation beam more powerful than a million suns detected heading our way"?
      • It's only "more powerful than a million suns" if it's omnidirectional.

        If, like a pulsar, it's NOT omnidirectional, then it's not necessarily so powerful.

        Caveat: it's crossing 5.5 gigalightyears. It's still pretty damn powerful, even if it's not "more powerful than a million suns"....

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Either this event was particular weak, or they were already assuming it was somewhat beamed. Previous estimates I've seen suggested 4e40 ergs if assuming isotropic, which is more like a billion times what the Sun produces in a year. And it is definitely "more powerful than a million suns" because the power of squeezing that into a millisecond adds another 10 orders of magnitude. You're not going to get beaming much for than a factor of 10^12 due to diffraction limits, so even if it was as narrow beamed a
    • Really, the time and distance depend on your point of view. From the photon's point of view, it hit Earth as soon as it was emitted, meaning that the distance is zero. From our point of view, the photons were emitted 5.5 billion years ago from a point rather far away (I was going to say 5.5 billion light-years, but due to space expansion I'm not nearly as confident of that).

  • WTF (Score:2, Troll)

    Congratulations on this being the first time that the arriving radio waves were captured in real time. But I would be far more interested in hearing how you capture radio waves other than in real time. I wouldn't even need a DVR if I could do that.
    • Re:WTF (Score:5, Informative)

      by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@g m a i l . c om> on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:19PM (#48852391) Journal
      If you had read the article, you would know that until now, they had to sift through old data to find these things, so they couldn't ask other radio-telescopes to look at it. This time the data was analyzed in real time and triggered an alarm so other radio-telescopes could look at it in other wavelengths, etc.
      • Re:WTF (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @07:26PM (#48852785)

        This time the data was analyzed in real time and triggered an alarm so other radio-telescopes could look at it in other wavelengths, etc.

        As it (or at least the interesting bit) lasted "the span of a millisecond", those other radio-telescope operators must have acted pretty quick.

        • Re:WTF (Score:4, Informative)

          by confused one ( 671304 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @08:18PM (#48853035)
          In many cases they're looking for afterglow or secondary effects. When a gamma ray burst is observed, it's common to request optical telescopes to point in the direction of the burst in the hopes they'll see what caused it.
        • Re:WTF (Score:4, Interesting)

          by radtea ( 464814 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @03:07AM (#48854413)

          As it (or at least the interesting bit) lasted "the span of a millisecond", those other radio-telescope operators must have acted pretty quick.

          It is likely that other processes will be longer-lived. For example, if there are optical emissions associated with the event they likely involve hot matter, which will in most reasonable scenarios take much longer then milliseconds to cool down. Gamma rays from nuclear processes will likewise have lifetimes that can be into the seconds (from intermediate beta decays.)

          There is a lot of mystery here. Collapsing neutron stars is on possibility, but getting the details right is going to be interesting. The billion light-year distance seems to come from dispersion measurements, which require that the initial pulse be much narrower than the observed pulse. Interstellar (and intergalactic) plasma slows down different radio wavelengths by slightly different amounts, so it will tend to spread out. By looking at the spread as a function of frequency it is possible to get an estimate of distance, but it depends on a lot of assumptions being correct.

          There is still a chance, albeit small, that these are closer than currently believed.

          Finally, it is worth noting that the first few detections of these things were all from the same radio telescope, and the scientific community did what we always do when something weird is seen only in one place: put on a side-bet that it was equipment malfunction, because the odds are always good on that.

        • Re:WTF (Score:4, Informative)

          by tommeke100 ( 755660 ) on Tuesday January 20, 2015 @09:35AM (#48855367)
          When an event emits at a particular wave-length; that event probably emitted at other wavelengths as well. Since different wavelengths travel at different speeds, it's still possible to observe other data from the same event a bit later.
  • It's just some farmer in the middle of nowhere trying to connect to the internet on their home planet. (S)He tried to save a few bucks by self installing the dish, and is sweeping the sky at full power.
  • Is "real-time" the new "literally", where how much you mean it matters more than what the word actually means?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MozeeToby ( 1163751 )

      What they are, admittedly awkwardly, trying to say is that the Fast Radio Burst was detected as it was happening, enabling follow up investigations to catch the immediate after effects. Previous such bursts were detected much later, too late to do any kind of follow up leading some to question if the events were even extra planetary.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Our Earth's orbit just crossed a High Power Alien Communication Beam between two of their outposts. Nothing to worry about...

  • Clearly, this is the signature of an FTL drive spinning up. Pity the folks using it died out 5.4999 billion years ago.

    • Clearly, this is the signature of an FTL drive spinning up. ...

      The only thing that baffles me, is how far down I had to scroll before someone came to this obvious conclusion.

      -HC

    • Perhaps they just flew by us alive and well, thanks to special relativity.
  • by avgjoe62 ( 558860 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:46PM (#48852525)

    But unlike other super-luminous events that span multiple wavelengths—gamma ray bursts or supernovae, for example—blitzars emit all that energy in a tiny band of the radio light spectrum.

    Why is this a mystery? 5.5 Billion years ago, did anyone have anything other than a radio? It wasn't like they could use a satellite dish or something...

  • A brief energetic burst...

    Last time I heard it referenced was when I slept with a somewhat disappointed astroscience major.

    *rimshot*

  • Congratulations, another civilization just won the Intergalactic Darwin Award.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How do we know the original burst was radio? Wouldn't red/blue shift affect the entire electromagnetic spectrum, not just visible light? Could these be higher energy bursts (perhaps gamma emitted from known phenomena) red-shifted by our relative space/time/vector/position? I feel ignorant asking, but if we don't know where they came from or have any fix on the source, how do we know they were emitted as "radio"?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, redshift affects all wavelengths equally. However, at the distance they cited, the cosmological red shift is only a factor of 3 in wavelength, which is just enough to shift visible into near-IR, while a shift from gamma to radio spectrum would need a factor of a billion. Current theories give the cosmic microwave background a redshift of around 1100, so we would not expect to see any cosmological red shifts larger than that for light, because the universe was opaque before the even that created the C

      • This ignorant AC actually got modded up, and for posting bad information???? In a vacuum all electromagnetic radiation travels at the same speed, you never see the speed of light listed as X for frequency F, just a single speed is ever given.
  • I think some far away scientist just said "don't worry, our LHC can not create a black ho..."
    • No. They say: 'if the LHC created black holes, so would cosmic ray impacts.'

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        I also read that even if the LHC did create a "stable" black hole that didn't immediately evaporate, that if it fell to the center of the Earth, it would take about 10,000 years before it came in contact with other matter to consume. The Earth would die of other reasons far before the pico-blackhole was able to do any real damage.
  • I wonder how they gauge the energy. If they simply extrapolate the energy-emission by assuming it's the same from any other angle, then it doesn't really take into account it could be a directed radio-burst.

    My logic tells me they should have already taken it into consideration, but if not it could explain the theorized super-duper-hyper-nova energy-levels, seeing as a sphere with radius 5.5 billion light years would require an enormous amount of energy to have its surface receive the measured levels of r
  • by RockDoctor ( 15477 ) on Sunday January 25, 2015 @04:47PM (#48900151) Journal
    It's submitted (and accepted) to MNRAS.

    "A real-time fast radio burst: polarization detection and multiwavelength follow-up" [arxiv.org]

    It's also on Research Gate.

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