Aliens, a powerful star, or a big black hole? Researchers presented evidence this week that pinpoints the location of radio signals that have baffled scientists for the last decade, leading to theories about their source.

Fast Radio Bursts

Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs have fascinated scientists since the first one was observed by an Australian team back in 2007. Since then, the powerful, yet very short radio waves have been detected only 18 times.

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Each lasts a millisecond or less, and is accompanied by weaker radio emissions. Of all the sources observed, only one has sent FRBS repeatedly.

The Very Large Array is a multi-antenna radio telescope project involving an international team of scientists and researchers from the US, Canada, and the Netherlands, among others, through the US National Science Foundation. The group studied the repeated phenomenon for a six month period, and were able to fix the location of the series of nine bursts they named FRB 121102.

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FRB 121102 appears to originate from a dwarf galaxy located about 3 billion light years from earth near the constellation Auriga. The group's findings were recently published in the Astrophysical Journal. Are they alien signals?

Alien contact from afar?

As astronomer Casey law of the VLA facility in New Mexico told a media conference earlier this week, the initial theory is that the FRB is being produced by a magnetar, a type of neutron star with a powerful magnetic field that emits gamma rays and other high-energy transmissions.

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A massive black hole is another plausible explanation. There will, however, be a follow up survey using the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama -- an optical rather than radio telescope -- to scan the area for signs of intelligent alien life.

There is an admittedly slim chance that FRB 121102 does originate from an alien civilization. If so, it means they would be using superior technology capable of working with the extremely powerful energy source required to create a radio signal that would travel 3 billion light years at such an intensity.

Scientists hope to continue studying FRBs to gain more insight into their workings -- and establish whether the source is an alien civilization once and for all.

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