In Canada, astronomers have detected a mysterious flurry of radio waves from outside our galaxy, according to two studies published Wednesday in Nature.
From which corner of the universe these powerful waves come from and the forces that produced them remain unknown.
The so-called fast repetitive radio bursts were identified during last summer's test of a purpose built telescope only operating at a fraction of its capacity.
Known by its acronym CHIME, the most powerful radio telescope in the world – spread over as large a surface as a football field – is about to detect many other enigmatic impulses now that it is fully operational .
"By the end of the year, we might have found 1,000 bursts," said Deborah Good, PhD student at the University of British Columbia and one of 50 scientists five institutions involved in research.
Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) only flash for a micro-instant, but can emit as much energy as the Sun in 10,000 years.
The exact causes of these high-energy high-wave waves located at the end of the electromagnetic spectrum remain the subject of intense debate.
More than 60 explosions have been cataloged since 2007, but only one – observed in 2012 at the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico – was a repeater.
"The FRB, it seems, is probably generated in dense and turbulent regions of host galaxies," AFP Shriharsh Tendulkar, corresponding author of the two studies and astronomer at McGill University, told AFP.
Cosmic convulsions created by turbulent gas clouds that give rise to stars, or stellar explosions such as a supernovae, are both possible incubators.
But consecutive radio bursts are a special case.
No little green man
"The fact that the bursts are repeated excludes any cataclysmic model in which the source is destroyed during the generation of the burst," added Tendulkar.
"A FRB emitted by the fusion of two neutron stars, or a neutron star and a black hole, for example, can not be repeated."
It is not yet clear whether the terrains conducive to repeated bursts are different from those that produce only one radio impulse.
Significantly, the "repeaters" of 2012 and 2018 have surprisingly similar properties.
CARILLON – Canadian experience in hydrogen intensity mapping – also spotted a dozen unique radio waves, but with an unusual profile.
Most FRBs spotted to date have wavelengths of a few centimeters, but these have intervals of nearly one meter, thus opening a new avenue of investigation to astronomers.
Could these enigmatic radio impulses indicate intelligence elsewhere in the universe? Could they be messages in a bottle?
"It's extremely, extremely improbable," said Tendulkar.
"As a scientist, I can not exclude it 100%, but intelligent life is in the mind of no astronomer as a source of these FRB."
Built in British Columbia, CHIME is made up of four 100-meter-long, 100-meter-long, wire-mesh tube cylinders that reconstruct the images of the sky by processing radio signals recorded by more than a thousand antennas.
"This signal processing system is the largest of all telescopes on Earth," said the researchers in a statement.
The other institutions playing a leading role are the University of Toronto, the National Research Council of Canada and the Perimeter Institute.