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New load of mysterious alien signals detected in one big haul

The latest batch of fast radio bursts could help us better understand the universe.

 An artist's impression of CSIRO's Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope observing FRBs.
OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology

Fast radio bursts are among the most mysterious and elusive outer space phenomena of recent years. Now, researchers using an Australian radio telescope have just detected one of the biggest single hauls of the brief but powerful bursts of radio waves.

"We've found 20 fast radio bursts in a year, almost doubling the number detected worldwide since they were discovered in 2007," said Ryan Shannon from Swinburne University of Technology. Shannon is the lead author of a paper on the findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature. "We've also proved that fast radio bursts are coming from the other side of the universe rather than from our own galactic neighborhood."

The team found the new fast radio bursts, or FRBs, including the closest and brightest (most powerful) yet detected, over the course of a year using the CSIRO radio telescope.

Most FRBs are one-time-only bursts of signals with no obvious origin, but a few years ago one FRB was found to be repeating, allowing scientists to trace it to a distant galaxy around 3 billion light-years away.  

What's sending out a signal powerful enough to travel so far across the universe still isn't clear, but astronomers have suggested it could be some massive cosmic object like a neutron star or perhaps even some very advanced aliens.

Shannon says his team's next plans will include trying to track down the origin of the new FRBs and using the data to better understand the universe.

"Timing the arrival of the different wavelengths tells us how much material the burst has travelled through on its journey. And because we've shown that fast radio bursts come from far away, we can use them to detect all the missing matter located in the space between galaxies -- which is a really exciting discovery."

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