The question of whether we’re truly alone in the universe has been the preoccupation of scientists, science-fiction writers, and everyday people for hundreds of years. The chances of the residents of Earth being the only forms of sentient life in the whole universe seem infinitesimally small. We live on only one planet, in orbit around just one star.
Our native galaxy, the Milky Way, hosts an estimated four hundred billion stars. They don’t all have planets in orbit around them, but even if only ten per cent of them did, that’s four hundred million star systems with planets. At least some of them must surely host life.
The figure of four hundred billion stars only pertains to our galaxy. There are so many more galaxies out there and so many more planets. Nobody knows how many stars there are in the universe. It might be a number we don’t even have a word for yet. There ought to be no chance that we’re the only self-aware residents of the universe, and yet we’ve never received any sign that there’s anybody else out there – or have we?
Within the past few weeks, scientists worldwide have confirmed the identification of hundreds of unexplained “fast radio bursts” in deep space – and they can’t rule out the possibility that they come from extraterrestrial life forms.
Radio bursts from deep space are nothing new – but they are becoming more frequent. The first time astronomers observed them was in 2007, but they were few and far between for the next ten years. Scientists detected only 140 bursts between 2007 and 2017. Despite having 140 examples to study, scientists were unable to identify a cause.
Each signal is little more than a flash of light (or “burst”) that exists only for a millisecond before disappearing. They would be easy to dismiss as intergalactic background noise were it not for the fact that some of them repeat at regular intervals – raising the possibility that they’re artificial in nature.
The fact that hundreds of new signals have been detected in the past twelve months is hard to put down to coincidence. We wouldn’t see them at all if a radio telescope wasn’t pointed in precisely the right direction at precisely the right time to catch them.
An individual radio telescope can only monitor a small patch of sky, so in theory, the majority of bursts should go undetected. Trying to find one is like trying to chase the jackpot in an online slots game. It’s possible for any player to land the jackpot on any spin when they’re playing online slots, but the odds are heavily against them because there are so many non-winning possible combinations.
For us to suddenly detect so many radio bursts is like logging into Rose Slots CA and hitting the jackpot every time. You’d be suspicious if that happened when you were playing online slots, and we ought to be suspicious of it now. It looks increasingly possible that the bursts are being directed our way intentionally, with the expectation of them being seen.
We must retain a sense of balance in this article, so we should allow for other possibilities. One is that recent advances in technology may have made the bursts easier to identify. The “CHIME” telescope in British Columbia, Canada, was switched on for the first time in 2018 and started receiving deep-space radio signals almost immediately.
It wasn’t specifically engineered to detect them but might coincidentally have turned out to be adept at doing so. Alternatively, an external source might have decided to start broadcasting the moment the telescope was switched on. In other words, someone out there in the great beyond might be trying to get our attention.
In total, CHIME has detected 535 fast radio bursts since 2018. Most of them happened only once, so while they remain unexplained, we can probably dismiss the idea that they were created by extraterrestrial intelligence. However, 61 of them repeat themselves and have bursts that last longer than the single-appearance instances.
Those 61 signals come from eighteen different sources and have more focused frequencies than the single-instance bursts. Again, the focused frequencies could be an indicator of a deliberate broadcast. Scientists have thus far been unable to trace the signals back to their sources, but the repetitive nature of them should mean it’s possible to do so. If we can find out where they come from, we may also find out what creates them.
The job is made harder by the fact that the radio waves are distorted as they pass through plasma and gas. The mere fact that they’re capable of passing through these obstacles confirms they come from high-energy sources, but the nature of those sources is undetermined.
Most scientists aren’t willing to consider the possibility that extraterrestrials are trying to communicate with them. They’re unable to offer an evidence-based explanation, but they have theories. One is that they’re somehow linked to black holes. Another is that they come from either magnetars or neutron stars – both of which are enormously powerful cosmic forces.
While pinpointing the exact origin points of the bursts has so far proved to be impossible, they appear to come from spiral galaxies. The spiral arms of these galaxies are effectively star forges, where new stars are born among almost unimaginable gravitational forces. The radio signals could be a product of the process of star formation. That’s a working theory, but it lacks the all-important detail of precisely how the relationship works. The process of star formation is still largely a mystery to us – as is the method by which these signals are generated.
We don’t think we’re on the verge of alien visitation of Earth. It might turn out that these radio bursts have nothing to do with aliens at all. However, it does seem odd that we’re suddenly receiving so many of them and that the ones that repeat tend to do so with focused frequencies and predictable patterns. I
t’s hard to imagine any natural process that would produce such rigid results. If there is alien life out there, this could be their first attempt at getting in touch. Given the risks involved in such a scenario, though, it’s hard to imagine scientists being brave enough to send a signal back the other way.
Shift Frequency © 2021 – What’s Behind The
Deep Space Radio Bursts?