Mysterious Signals From Space Continue to Baffle Scientists

In February of 2015, the Parkes radio telescope in Australia identified some fast radio bursts (FRB) that have captivated astrophysicists ever since. Named “cosmic whistles,” an FRB is a rapid flash of energy observed as split-second interstellar radio wave blips. FRB 150215, though, appears to be different from before detected bursts.

What makes FRB 150215 even more fascinating is that it doesn’t appear to leave any signal or trace of light behind. The Parkes scientists used 11 telescopes in an effort to detect “radio, optical, X-ray, gamma-ray, and neutrino emission” from these signals — but none were discovered.

“Neither transient nor variable discharge was discovered  to be linked with the burst, and no repeat pulses have been detected in 17.25 hours of observing,” the scientists report in a new study (which has yet to be peer reviewed).

How could such high energy bursts not leave any traces? As if that was not enigmatic enough, consider that in order for FRB 150215 to have been identified at all, it had to go through a rather thick area of the Milky Way. This means that it should not have been diwscoverable in the first place.

The big blip that is FRB 150215. 
Image credit: Emily Petroff

We’ll See Them. . .Ultimately

FRBs were first detected in 2007, and since then, there have been 22 identified FRB incidences. It was only earlier this year that scientists finally discovered the source of one of these FRBs: some distant dwarf galaxy. Back in April, another group of researchers confirmed that FRBs are certainly coming from space.

As we improve our tools with which to see and hear the cosmos, the likelihood of finding what actually caused these signals is improving. For one, new and improved space telescopes like the James Webb will give us a sight of our cosmic neighborhood like we’ve never perceived before.

When we do see them, no doubt we’ll absolutely be in for a surprise. For now, however, astrophysicists are putting in additional work to better comprehend the phenomenon.

“It is not very frequent in science that you get to work on something that’s so new and so mysterious that you get to response the fundamental questions. It’s thrilling to be in these very initial phases of the field when you can make a big influence with your research and answer these truly big questions.” scientist Emily Petroff told Gizmodo.