Scientists recently did something they have never done before with alien radio signals. They caught one in real-time. Until now, our knowledge of previous radio signal bursts came from historical data.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are described as “one of the most tantalizing mysteries of the radio sky; their progenitors and origins remain unknown and until now no rapid multiwavelength follow-up of an FRB has been possible.”

A team of scientists from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia caught the FRB in real-time just after 5 pm UTC on May 14, 2014. The observation was made by the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.

Right after they observed the radio burst, other telescopes from around the world focused on the spot where the radio signal came from. None of these telescopes saw any afterglow. That rules out any nearby supernovae or long duration gamma-ray bursts according to the team of scientists.

This radio burst was massive. It’s source is a mystery. It “must be huge, cataclysmic and up to 5.5 billion light years away,” according to researcher Emily Petroff in comments to New Scientist.

The burst lasted just one millisecond, but gives off more energy than the sun does in a million years.

So, what could have caused it? Possibilities range from a massive neutron star collapsing to a flare from a neutron star with an incredibly strong magnetic field.

This radio burst also revealed something new to scientists. The waves vibrate in two planes, not just one. Even scientists are stumped on this one. “Nobody knows what to make of it,” Keith Bannister of Australia’s National Science Agency said to New Scientist.

Learning about this radio burst makes me want to go watch Contact again.

Image credit: Wayne England

Follow News Ledge

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we receive a commission if you make a purchase using one of the affiliated links.