There’s more noise coming from FRB 121102, a deep space location said to be in a galaxy three billion light years from earth. Breakthrough Listen, a scientific research programme that searches for signs of intelligent life beyond earth, has used a machine learning algorithm to detect 72 new fast radio bursts (FRBs) emanating from the source FRB 121102. FRBs are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant galaxies. Most FRBs have been recorded during a single outburst. But FRB 121102 is the only source till date known to emit repeated bursts.

Last year, 21 FRBs were detected from the same source during observations made with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, US. In a 30 September 2017 Lounge story, Vishal Gajjar, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, had explained how the detected bursts were only a few milliseconds wide. Now, UC Berkeley PhD student Gerry Zhang and his colleagues have developed an algorithm to inspect the 2017 observations again. According to an official news release, these new bursts were missed by conventional search methods.

Zhang and his team used some of the same techniques that internet technology firms use “to optimize search results and classify images". They used this to develop and train the new algorithm to analyse the 2017 data set from the Green Bank Telescope. They found an additional 72 bursts that were not detected originally. These new bursts, the release adds, will help answer questions about FRB 121102’s origin.

There is no clear explanation for the mechanism and source of FRBs. While the bursts from FRB 121102 can be tracked to a galaxy three billion light years away, the nature of the object emitting them is still unknown.

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