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Mystery radio bursts coming from space – but probably not from E.T.

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Evaporating black holes, supernovae, merging neutron stars, or neutron stars with unusually strong magnetic fields compared with other neutron stars all could be possible sources, Dr. Cordes writes in a commentary in Science tied to the new discovery.

But he also cautions patience, noting it took 20 years for astronomers to uncover the sources of gamma-ray bursts, first detected not by astronomers but by satellites designed to spot above-ground nuclear explosions. Only after astronomers began hunting for the gamma-ray bursts and performing near-instant follow-ups with telescopes operating at other wavelengths were they able to uncover the exotic events that triggered the bursts.

The same is likely to hold true for fast radio bursts, he writes.

This is actually the second reported detection of these unique cosmic signals.

In 2007, a team led by Duncan Lorimer, astrophysicist at West Virginia University in Morgantown, reported the first such burst detected, based on a review of 6-year-old data captured by the 210-foot-diameter radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory in Australia. The team put the source's location in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies.

But the burst appeared far enough away from the satellite galaxy to suggest an origin beyond the Milky Way's neighborhood. Indeed, the team estimated, the source of the burst was some 3 billion light-years away.

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