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Breakthrough Listen observes repeated radio signals

– News of September 5, 2017 –

Breakthrough Listen, an intelligent life research project, made an interesting observation last week. This project has the same initiators as the project Breakthrough Starshot, the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and the physicist Stephen Hawking. Like Breakthrough Starshot, Breakthrough Listen enjoys significant financial means, a budget of $ 100 million over 10 years. This allows the initiative to rent radio telescope fleets over long periods. Breakthrough Listen would be able to collect as much data in one day as SETI in one year.

Breakthrough Listen has already published its first observations. One of them is particularly interesting. Rapid radio signals could be observed in a galaxy 3 billion light-years from Earth. The source of these radio events has been called FRB 121102. Rapid radio signals have been observed since 2007. These are very short radio signals lasting a few milliseconds. The phenomenon is too recent to provide a certain explanation, but what makes FRB 121102 interesting is that it is the origin of a rapid and repeated radio signals. Breakthrough Listen has indeed already been able to make 15 observations of the phenomenon. This is the only known radio source with such behavior.

What could be the cause of these radio signals in this distant galaxy ? One of the possible explanations would be a magnetar, ie a neutron star with an extremely intense magnetic field. Magnetars are already suspected of causing gamma or X-ray bursts. Radio waves should therefore be added to this. The other hypothesis would be that these radio bursts would be emitted by an intelligent source. We imagine that Breakthrough Listen researchers are very eager to believe this explanation, but it is impossible to draw conclusions from such brief signals. Additional observations are therefore necessary.

The Breakthrough Listen project is part of a much larger set of projects called Breakthrough Initiatives that is funded entirely by Russian magnate Yuri Milner. The Breakthrough Starshot project aims to send micro-probes to Proxima Centauri using powerful lasers. There is also Breakthrough Watch, which focuses on the search for exoplanets, and Breakthrough Message which aims to reflect on how a message could be sent to an extraterrestrial civilization.

Image by Geremia at Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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