Scientists on the hunt for source of powerful fast radio bursts of extraterrestrial origin

Some scientists search the heavens for signs of life in space with optical telescopes and others search the skies with radio telescopes. The former gives us incredible images to look at and the latter looks for radio signals from all sorts of objects in space including potentially intelligent life. Scientists are currently searching for the source of a set of Fast Radio Bursts or FRB that happened in 2016.

This FRB is called FRB 121102 and it is unique because it is the only known repeating FRB source. The fact that the FRBs can be picked up repeatedly tells scientists that it's not some one-time cataclysmic event. The team is using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to analyze data on 16 bursts from RB 121102.

The team knows that the source is in a star-forming region of a dwarf galaxy that it about 3 billion light-years from Earth. The team says the amount of energy in a single millisecond of each burst must be about as much as the energy output for the sun in an entire day.

The team is focusing on the polarization of these emissions. FRB 121102 bursts are highly polarized and short in duration, similar to what would be expected of a young and energetic neutron star. The team has also found that the FRBs from the source are 500 times more twisted than those from any other FRB source discovered to date.

The twist to the radio signals is called Faraday rotation and happens when the radio waves pass through magnetized plasma or a cloud of electrically charged particles. The team says this sort of Faraday rotation is extremely rare. The team says that the extreme twist of the signal hints that the FRB may have passed through extraordinarily hot plasma or might exist near a black hole or supernova 10,000 times the mass of our sun.