Mysterious ‘alien’ radio signals can now be detected in real time

Rob Waugh
The mile-long Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope, which is located in southeastern Australia (Getty)

One of the greatest puzzles in astronomy could be unraveled thanks to a new AI system which can detect mysterious ‘fast radio bursts’ in real time.

Fast radio bursts are bright pulses of radio emission mere milliseconds in duration, thought to originate from distant galaxies.

The source of these emissions is still unclear, however - and some suggest they could be from extraterrestrials.

Theories range from highly magnetized neutron stars blasted by gas streams from a nearby supermassive black hole, to signatures of technology developed by an advanced civilization.

Wael Farah of Swinburne University develeloped an FRB system which can spot the bursts in real time using machine learning.

Mr Farah’s system has already identified five bursts – including one of the most energetic ever detected, as well as the broadest.

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His results have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Mr Farah trained the on-site computer at the Molonglo Radio Observatory near Canberra to recognise the signs and signatures of FRBs, and trigger an immediate capture of the finest details seen to date.

The bursts were detected within seconds of their arrival at the Molonglo Radio Telescope, producing high quality data that allowed Swinburne researchers to study their structure accurately, and gather clues about their origin.

Mr Farah says 'It is fascinating to discover that a signal that travelled halfway through the universe, reaching our telescope after a journey of a few billion years, exhibits complex structure, like peaks separated by less than a millisecond,' he says.

Molonglo project scientist, Dr Chris Flynn says: 'Wael has used machine learning on our high-performance computing cluster to detect and save FRBs from amongst millions of other radio events, such as mobile phones, lightning storms, and signals from the Sun and from pulsars.'

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