A Canadian Radio Telescope Has Been Receiving Mysterious Signals From Across the Universe Since July
It lasts just milliseconds, but it could be a turning point in space research. Since July, Canada’s CHIME Telescope has received Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) from across the universe. It may be the first time Earth has received a signal from an alien civilization — or the cry of a dying star.
The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment in British Columbia began operations in 2017, with the overarching goal of collecting data about dark energy, the mysterious force that comprises 70% of the universe. More specifically, the journal Nature describes CHIME’s mission as “[mapping] the density of interstellar hydrogen across the Universe in the epoch between 10 billion and 8 billion years ago.” Part of the data collected includes FRB. Since the first transmission in July, many more FRB have been received by the CHIME telescope, but researchers can’t say where they’re coming from or what might be sending them.
The Universe is huge. Because it is expanding and that expansion is accelerating, estimates have it stretching up to 93 billion light-years across, though the visible universe is only a mere 13.8 billion light-years across. This means most of the Universe will remain invisible, as its distant light has not had enough time to reach Earth. The Universe has very low density precisely because of its size. On average, a cubic meter of space contains only 5.9 atoms. The density of matter in the Universe, however, is only one atom per every four cubic meters of space. Matter itself is mostly empty space too; a typical atom is 100,000 times larger than its nucleus, and the nucleus contains 99.9 percent of an atom’s mass.
Researchers now believe they have found more than half of the Universe’s missing baryonic matter.
An Australian study recently plunged into the world of dark matter, using new technology to identify a multitude of microbial species. As a result, scientists have now added new 20 phyla to the tree of life.
Expanding the tree of life
Researchers at the University of Queensland used advances in gene sequencing technology and mathematics to study microbial genomes obtained straight from environmental samples, without the necessity of cultivation in the lab. The new technology is called metagenomics, whereby researchers gather specimens of all the genetic material—for instance, in a sample of soil, ocean water or baboon feces—and then piece them together using computational models to identify the microorganisms they represent.
When Hungarian theoretical particle physicists detected a radioactive decay anomaly in a series of experiments, they published a paper in 2015 suggesting those anomalies pointed to the existence of dark photons. These theoretical force carriers have never been detected, and might indicate unseen dark matter (so-called because it neither absorbs nor emits light, and so is impossible to detect directly) – which could help researchers understand why the universe is filled with dark matter. Or maybe, said a group of American physicists who reviewed the Hungarians’ research in 2016, this is actually the signature of a fifth fundamental force.
Dark matter remains a mystery of modern cosmology. Something unseen in the universe is exerting gravity, affecting how galaxies spin and ensuring that whole clusters of galaxies don’t drift apart. It’s widely accepted that dark matter exists and that, like normal matter, it has mass. Unlike normal matter, however, it is invisible, or “dark.” Most scientists favor the theory that dark matter is made up of particles like visible matter, but every attempt to directly detect or even conclusively characterize those particles has proven unsuccessful.
But now a startling new theory posits that, rather than comprising new, exotic particles, dark matter is actually made up of black holes. "Studies are providing increasingly sensitive results, slowly shrinking the box of parameters where dark matter particles can hide," said Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. "The failure to find them has led to renewed interest in studying how well primordial black holes - black holes formed in the universe's first fraction of a second - could work as dark matter."