Fast radio bursts, signals detected in deep space that give off the energy of roughly 500 million suns, have confounded scientists for a decade. Back in 2007, scientists taking a close look at six-year-old data came across an incredibly strong and short signal from deep space. These signals are very brief—5 milliseconds—and detectable on the radio spectrum. And they’re important because scientists don’t know what they are; any mystery in space presents a new opportunity to learn about the universe.
In a new study accepted for publication in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters, Harvard physicists Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingam analyzed a series of fast radio bursts. Since their discovery in 2007, scientists have only detected a total of 17 fast radio bursts. The duo focuses on the only repeating burst. Their conclusion: It’s possible these signals are the result of a massive alien structure.
“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,” said Loeb in a recent statement. “An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.”
One potential artificial origin, according to the new study, might be a gigantic radio transmitter built by intelligent aliens. So Loeb and lead author Manasvi Lingam, of Harvard University, investigated the feasibility of this possible explanation.
Swapna Krishna is a science and tech writer, with a weekly space column at Paste Magazine. She's written about space for outlets such as Smithsonian Magazine, Fast Company, Tor.com, and The Portalist. You can find her on Twitter @skrishna.