Weird Signals from Deep, Dark Space By Brian Simpson
Take a break from all the weirdness on earth and look to the stars, and think about what weirder stuff must be going on there.
“Our universe is teeming with invisible light. Beyond the visible spectrum, space is a colorful mess of radio signals and microwaves fired off by flaring "suns," collapsing stars, crackling magnetic fields, roiling dust clouds and seething black holes.
Then, there's the light nobody understands — mysterious, ultrastrong sparks of energy zipping billions of light-years across the universe from unknown origins, for unknown reasons.
Puzzling pulses like these are sometimes called fast radio bursts (FRBs), because they may last just a few milliseconds. On the morning of July 25, one such burst of mysterious energy whizzed past a new array of radio telescopes nestled in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada, registering one of the rarest radio frequencies ever detected.
According to a statement released in The Astronomer's Telegram (a bulletin board of astronomical observations posted by accredited scientists), the mystery signal — named FRB 180725A after the year, month and day it was detected — transmitted in frequencies as low as 580 megahertz, nearly 200 MHz lower than any other FRBs ever detected.
"These events have occurred during both the day and night, and their arrival times are not correlated with known on-site activities or other known sources," wrote Patrick Boyle, author of the Astronomer's Telegram report and a project manager for the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) — the radio telescope that detected the strange new signature.
The pulse's fast, low frequency suggests that the blast was extremely bright and originated from an insanely powerful source somewhere in the cosmos. Studying the peculiar signal could give astronomers better clues as to how these extragalactic radio waves form and where they're coming from.
"Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven't identified a possible natural source with any confidence," Avi Loeb, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who was not involved in the discovery, said last year in a statement related to new research on these bursts.
He added that an "artificial origin" of the signals (i.e., extraterrestrial intelligence) is worth considering. Other possible origins include supernovas (exploding stars), supermassive black holes or various other sources of mighty electromagnetic radiation, such as pulsars.”
“A rogue planet has been discovered outside of our solar system, and the American Astronomical Society published a report last week detailing the nature of this very hot, very gassy celestial vagabond.
“SIMP J01365663+0933473” may not quite roll off the tongue, but that has not stopped it from becoming a hot topic of conversation. The planet is skirting the boundaries of our solar system — just 20 light years from Earth — and may prove to be an invaluable source of astronomic knowledge.
In a report published to The Astrophysical Journal, Melodie Kao and her colleagues estimated that SIMP is roughly 200 million years old and around 12 times the size of Jupiter. For a sense of that scale, let me remind you that Jupiter itself is roughly as big as 1,300 Earths. It also has a magnetic field about 200 times as strong as our infamously spotted neighbor’s, driving auroras much like our own, except with a lack of a sun, SIMP’s auroras are likely caused by magnetic play with one of its own moons.
While independent of a sun, SIMP is nevertheless too muggy to make it as an extraterrestrial vacation destination. The surface of SIMP is roughly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 Celsius), sitting “right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf, or ‘failed star,’” according to Kao. She said that SIMP “is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets.”
Caltech’s Gregg Hallinan said that researching SIMP “presents huge challenges to our understanding of the dynamo mechanism that produces the magnetic fields in brown dwarfs and exoplanets and helps drive the auroras we see.””