Mysterious signals from outer space are being detected by scientists, and so far their origins are unexplained.
The Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) have been foxing astronomers since they were initially identified in 2007; the first one, named the Lorimer burst after its discoverer Duncan Lorimer, was a random signal lasting just five milliseconds. This original FRB was so fleeting that it left researchers wondering for years whether it had merely been a malfunction in one of the telescope's instruments, but since then several other isolated signals have been detected.
The most famous of all signals from space was known as the "WOW" signal after the message jotted down next to it by its discoverer, Jerry Ehman; it lasted 72 seconds and still remains unexplained. It was received at the Ohio State University’s now-defunct Big Ear radio observatory at 11.16pm on August 15, 1977, and many scientists believe it to be the most convincing potential "message" from extra-terrestrials ever to have been received. Eighteen years previously, researchers had tried to predict what form such a message would take, and had decided that the most probably format would be via a radio signal at exactly 1,420 MHz, as this is the vibration frequency of hydrogen, the most common molecule in the universe. The characteristics of the WOW signal exactly fitted the predicted format that researchers had been told to look out for, but sadly, the message has never been repeated and no other conclusive explanation has been found.
Even further back in time, in 1967, intriguing pulsing signals emanating from outside of our solar system stunned British astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who initially thought they must be of extra-terrestrial origin. It was later determined, however, that they were rapidly spinning stars known as pulsars.
Scientists have put forward many theories regarding the origins of the FRB signals, ranging from flaring stars and neutron star collisions to blitzsars and white dwarf mergers. Flaring stars could send burst of light through the thick ejected layers of a star’s atmosphere, but scientists would then expect to find FRBs towards variable stars (ones with fluctuating brightness) in our galaxy, which is not the case. White dwarfs could merge to form a larger, spinning white dwarf that could emit radiation from their poles in a manner consistent with FRBs; similarly, neutron stars could collide and release high energy bursts known as Gamma Ray Bursts which could produce FRBs, but these theories have yet to be proven. Enormous, "supra-massive" neutron stars could release intense bursts of radio waves known as blitzars, which could also be responsible for the FRB style signals.
Finally, as with the WOW signal, scientists are not ruling out extra-terrestrial communication as the source of the FRBs, though the fact that the signals have been received from different areas of space makes this theory less likely, though not impossible.
"This extraordinary finding either indicates an as yet unknown or unusual astronomical phenomenon, or it could indicate that this is a vast alien communication network, and the universe is teeming with intelligent life forms,’ commented Nigel Watson, author of the UFO Investigations Manual.
"Every unusual signal from outer space encourages us to wonder if it is from an alien civilisation.
"Since this signal seems so elusive and hard to interpret then this should be a candidate for further analysis.
"It would be fantastic if this was an alien signal as the knowledge that we are not alone in this vast universe would have a dramatic impact on our perception of our place in the scheme of things."