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Sudden shrieks of radio waves from deep space keep slamming into radio telescopes on Earth, spattering those instruments' detectors with confusing data. And now, astronomers are using artificial intelligence to pinpoint the source of the shrieks, in the hope of explaining what's sending them to Earth from — researchers suspect — billions of light-years across space.

Usually, these weird, unexplained signals are detected only after the fact, when astronomers notice out-of-place spikes in their data — sometimes years after the incident. The signals have complex, mysterious structures, patterns of peaks and valleys in radio waves that play out in just milliseconds. That's not the sort of signal astronomers expect to come from a simple explosion, or any other one of the standard events known to scatter spikes of electromagnetic energy across space. Astronomers call these strange signals fast radio bursts (FRBs). Ever since the first one was uncovered in 2007, using data recorded in 2001, there's been an ongoing effort to pin down their source. But FRBs arrive at random times and places, and existing human technology and observation methods aren't well-primed to spot these signals.

Now, in a paper published July 4 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of astronomers wrote that they managed to detect five FRBs in real time using a single radio telescope. [The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe]

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Category: Science