January 10, 2019 9:20 pm
Updated: January 11, 2019 1:11 pm

UBC radio telescope picks up powerful, repeating energy burst from beyond the Milky Way

For second time in history, a radio telescope near Penticton has picked up radio bursts from outside the Milky Way. Jordan Armstrong reports.

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The phone in Ingrid Stairs’ office won’t stop ringing.

Media from around the world are calling to ask about her team’s out of this world discovery.

“We were relieved and very happy,” said the UBC astrophysicist.

Stairs is part of a group of scientists behind the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME.

The team’s recently installed radio telescope near Penticton has discovered 13 fast radio bursts, or FRBs, coming from far outside our Milky Way Galaxy.

“We don’t know what fast radio bursts are to begin with. They probably are emitted by something like a neutron star with a high magnetic field. It makes a lot of energy,” said Stairs.

The goal: learn more about the powerful signals and where they come from.

One of the fast radio bursts they found flashed repeatedly — only the second ever recorded to do so.

“It’s pretty cool for Canada as a whole,” Stairs said.

“This is really a Canadian-conceived telescope and most of the collaborators are from Canada.”

Ingrid Stairs said there has been significant international interest in her team’s discovery.

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What’s remarkable is they’re just getting started. The discovery was made last summer, during a test-run of the new telescope, Stairs said.

“Whenever you built a new instrument, there’s usually a good chance of finding something you never anticipated.”

While scientists don’t know what’s causing the powerful radio signals, Stairs is confident it’s not aliens.

“The chances of having aliens in all these different places deciding to make the same kind of signals and directing them toward us, it’s just not a viable thing,” she said with a laugh.

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