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A Heartbeat from Outer Space

A Heartbeat from Outer Space

Scientists working with the CHIME radio telescope in British Columbia have observed a rather strange phenomenon: an unusually long radio signal emanating from the depths of space. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment has intercepted hundreds of FRBs (fast radio bursts), but these signals are typically only milliseconds long. The new FRB 20191221A is over three whole seconds long. It might not sound like much, but that’s hundreds of times longer than anything that’s been recorded before. In addition to its unusual length, the signal also had a repetitive nature like a “heartbeat.”

So where did this radio signal come from? Alien civilization? A robotic deep mind? A galactic burp? Well, FRBs are still not entirely understood but it’s theorized that the signals originate from collapsing neutron stars. Some have suggested this particular sound may have even come from a collision between two stars.

The CHIME telescope was built to monitor radio signals emanating from hydrogen, but it’s proved adept at monitoring FRBs as well. The discovery calls to mind other major radio signal discoveries, like the Wow! Signal in 1977, but unfortunately for sci-fi buffs, there’s no reason to think the signal is being sent by extraterrestrials. Nevertheless, the discovery provides a new glimpse into the nature of neutron stars. Check out the full published study in Nature here!

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