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Astronomers have traced an 'alien signal' to a distant galaxy

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Since 2007, astronomers have been scratching their heads over a series of short, mysterious radio signals smacking into our planet with an energy equal to that given off by our own Sun over days - or even weeks. Where was it coming from? What was emitting so much energy across space? Could it be an attempt of communication from a distant civilisation?

A team lead by Evan Keane from the UK’s Jodrell Bank Observatory now believe they've been able to pinpoint the origins of one incredibly short burst - the 17th recorded - to a galaxy six billion light years away.

Their report, published in Nature, traces the radio burst 'FRB 150418' captured on 18 April 2015 by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. By combining the initial reading with data taken by six 22m dishes of the Australian Telescope Compact Array, Keane and an international team were able to trace where the blast had come from. 

"A decade ago, we weren't really looking for them - and also our ability to handle the data and to search it in a reasonable time was significantly poorer," said Keane. "Whereas with this one, I was awoken by my phone going crazy a few seconds after it happened, saying: Evan, wake up! There was another radio burst!"

A mass of dishes pointed at the spot the radio burst had been detected from was able to catch an "afterglow" of the flash - lasting some six days. The data pointed to the emission coming from a very old elliptical galaxy, six billion light years from Earth.

Aliens? "Nope! Sorry," Keane told the AFP. 

So why the excitement? 

It's because this data is able to help astrophysicists like Keane "weigh" the galaxy - examining all the stuff and matter that got in the way of the radio signal and working out how much 'space' is in space.

According to the report's co-author Dr Simon Johnston, the signal most probably came from two neutron stars colliding rather than the birth of any new stars or a shout of "hello" from a distant neighbour. 

For now, the Earth's largest dishes will keep watching the skies for any more bursts. And we'll keep hoping one of them sounds like a friendly greeting. 

[Via: BBC]

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