Repeated Signal from ExtraGalactic Source (FRB 121101)

Aricebo Telescope in Puerto Rico picks up first ever repeated extragalactic radio signals from deep space. The discovery, since published in Nature, has created quite a hullabaloo. Repeated extragalactic signals had never been detected until now. And this signal has repeated 10 times, with the same sky positions, and dispersion measures, which indicates the source of the signal is surviving the emissions of the signal, ruling out previous conjecture that FRB's were only from cataclysmic events like neutron stars turning into black holes, short gamma ray bursts or supernovas.

In case your new to the lingo, an FRB stands for Fast Radio Burst, and they are really fast burts of radio signal from deep in space that only last a few milliseconds. This particular burst, which came from a previously charted location called FRB 121101, was discovered to have a signal three times stronger than anything before seen in that direction. To quote from the synopsis published by Cornell University, "The burst has three times the maximum Galactic DM expected along this particular line-of-sight, suggesting an extragalactic origin." 

Since these FRB's (Fast Radio Bursts) only last for a few milliseconds, and until now were never repeating from the same location, scientists believed, as mentioned, they were just the cause of distant cataclysms. But now, with a repeating and consistent signal from the direction of FRB 121101, new thinking suggests it may be from a young highly magnetized extragalactic neutron star.

Laura Spitler, a post doc researcher at the Max Planck Institute for for Radio Astronomy, in Bonn, Germany, and first author of the paper on this finding said, "Not only did these bursts repeat, but their brightness and spectra also differ from those of other FRBs.” Ironically, this finding arrived in the wake of a publication in Nature that pointed to cataclysmic events as the cause of FRB's, but another physics professor, Victoria Kaspi, was quick to point out that doesn't mean there is a problem, just there just may be two or more types of extragalactic radio signals out there. In her own words, "However, the apparent conflict between the studies could be resolved, if it turns out that there are at least two kinds of FRB sources." Put another way, as stated in an article published by McGill University, it is possible this new FRB, "represents the first discovery of a sub-class of the cosmic fast-radio-burst population."

Moving forward, researchers hope to discover the galaxy from which the extragalactic radio waves are coming from. Jason Hessels, from the University of Amsterdam and Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, notes, "Finding the host galaxy of this source is critical to understanding its properties." Scientists can tell if a radio has come from beyond the milky way galaxy based on its influence of electrons acquired from interstellar ware on the journey, this causes low frequency radio waves to travel slower, like they're carrying extra weight. Their intention to pinpoint the location of the galaxy can hopefully be done using interferometry, which is essentially a huge panorama of radio telescopes combined with really good stitch work.

Not only is it super cool that we've received the first ever repeated extragalactic signal from space but it is of note to point out that it was picked up by the Aricebo telescope in Puerto Rico, (whereas all previous FRB's had been detected by the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia), mainly because The Aricebo Telescope received its name in honor of The Aricebo message, a communication sent out from that telescope in 1974 by Carl Sagan and the rest of humanity in hopes of contacting life in distant galaxies.