AI detects mysterious 72 radio bursts coming from deep space

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AI detects mysterious 72 radio bursts coming from deep space
Scientists with the Breakthrough Listen project have used artificial intelligence to discover more fast radio bursts, brilliant flashes in deep space, than a human astronomer could

A massive batch of fast radio bursts has been discovered coming from the notorious repeating fast radio source FRB 121102. The data found on green Bank Telescope. Scientists trained an AI to recognize them, then put it to work on 400 TB of data. The new signals suggest they don’t follow any discernible pattern, experts say

Using machine learning techniques to analyze data from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Breakthrough Listen team spotted 72 fast radio bursts.

Evidence of these strange signals has piled in over the last few years – but, scientists still aren’t quite sure what’s causing them.

Read More: Strange New Theory For Those Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts in Space


The so-called ‘repeater,’ an object known more formally as FRB 121102, has baffled researchers for years.

It’s the only source known to emit repeated bursts, and is known to be situated in a galaxy 3 billion light years from Earth – but beyond that, it’s a mystery.

This artist’s impression of the cosmic web, the filamentary structure that fills the entire Universe, showing radio sources associated with FRBs. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA
This artist’s impression of the cosmic web, the filamentary structure that fills the entire Universe, showing radio sources associated with FRBs. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA

Some have recommended that the source might be magnetized neutron stars, while others have suggested an advanced alien civilization is to blame.

And, signals just keep streaming in.

Researchers found the 72 new signals after searching through 400 terabytes of information a second time. At first, just 21 were found.

‘Not all discoveries come from new observations,’ said Pete Worden, Executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives.

‘In this case, it was smart, original thinking applied to an existing dataset. It has advanced our knowledge of one of the most tantalizing mysteries in astronomy.’

To find additional FRBs, the researchers first trained a convolutional neural network to recognize these types of signals, then let it get to work on the huge dataset.

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are radio emissions that appear temporarily and randomly, making them not only hard to find but also hard to study.



The mystery stems from the fact it is not known what could produce such a short and sharp burst.

Mysterious radio signals may come from a supermassive black hole
Mysterious radio signals may come from a supermassive black hole

Read More: Mysterious radio signals may come from a supermassive black hole

This has led some to speculate they could be anything from stars colliding to artificially created messages.

The first FRB was spotted, or rather ‘heard’ by radio telescopes, back in 2001 but wasn’t discovered until 2007 when scientists were analyzing archival data.

But it was so temporary and seemingly random that it took years for astronomers to agree it wasn’t a glitch in one of the telescope’s instruments.



Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics point out that FRBs can be used to study the structure and evolution of the universe whether or not their origin is fully understood.

A large population of faraway FRBs could act as probes of material across gigantic distances.

This intervening material blurs the signal from the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the leftover radiation from the Big Bang.

A cautious investigation of this mediating material should give an enhanced comprehension of essential grandiose constituents, for example, the relative measures of standard issue, dim issue, and dim vitality, which influence how quickly the universe is growing.

FRBs can also be used to trace what broke down the ‘fog’ of hydrogen atoms that pervaded the early universe into free electrons and protons when temperatures cooled down after the Big Bang.

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