Scientists use artificial intelligence to help track down mysterious cosmic signals

Mindy Sparks
September 12, 2018

Fast radio bursts remain one of the most head-scratching phenomena in the universe.

Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley's SETI Research Center Breakthrough Listen team have deployed new neural net technology to help analyse the reams of data they've collected - and they quickly discovered a set of mysterious, as-of-yet unexplained fast radio bursts from a distant galaxy, per TechCrunch. Fast radio waves are bright pulses of radio emission that lasts for mere milliseconds. They are extremely powerful, generating as much energy as hundreds of millions of Suns. While most FRBs flash once in the sky and then disappear forever, FRB 121102 is different.

This means they can't be predicted; so it's not like astronomers are able to plan observations. Out of all that data, half of them contained simulated FRBs and the other half didn't.

Except for one source. When combined with the 21 FRBs previously found on August 26, 2017, the total now comes to new 93 FRBs discovered.

The FRBs are coming from the only known source that has sent out repeating messages, with the rest of the blasts only ever being detected once.

Breakthrough Listen researchers used that same five-hour sample as a control to determine the effectiveness of the new listening algorithm. Breakthrough Listen found 23 bursts from 121102 by using the Green Bank Telescope - West Virginia.

Gerry Zhang, a PhD student at Berkeley, developed the machine-learning algorithm used to examine the 400tb of data, in which another researcher had already identified 21 FRBs.


"All were seen within one hour, suggesting that the source alternates between periods of quiescence and frenzied activity", said Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Vishal Gajjar. "There are many theories, including that they could be the signatures of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligent life", the press release said. This brings the total sequence of detected bursts from FRB 121102 to around 300 because it used to be realized in 2012, researchers acknowledged.

"This work is only the beginning of using these powerful methods to find radio transients", said astronomer Gerry Zhang of the University of California Berkeley, which runs Breakthrough Listen.

Breakthrough Listen is also applying the successful machine learning algorithm to find new kinds of signals that could be emerging from an extraterrestrial civilization.

The results have helped put new constraints on the periodicity of the pulses from FRB-121102, suggesting that the pulses are not received with a regular pattern.

These new measurements of radio bursts will be a step forward in finding out what power is behind the mysterious sources. Studies that were previously working on fast radio bursts concluded that 121102 emits a signal from a galaxy located 3 billion light years away from us, but that's as far as the study goes.

And a odd warp in the radio signal suggests it comes from an extreme environment, such as the vicinity of a black hole or a powerful nebula.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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