Heartbeats From Deep Space

All the remarkable pictures coming to us in the past few weeks from the new space telescope have some people thinking again about what is “out there” and also about who might be out there too.

I read that it is unlikely that the telescope will show us any signs of other intelligent life, but it might show signs of some life forms. Bacteria and such don’t make for summer blockbuster films, so that idea doesn’t get people very excited.

magnetar – a type of neutron star with a powerful magnetic field

But scientists have picked up a radio signal they are calling a “heartbeat” billions of light-years away. Astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other sites have picked up radio signals that repeat in a clear periodic pattern similar to a beating heart from a galaxy billions of light-years from Earth. The signal was found to last up to three seconds (that is 1,000 times longer than the average radio burst) and repeat every .2 seconds, like a heartbeat.

The scientists don’t think it is some alien sitting at a control panel sending out a message. Though there are not many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals, there are some. In our own galaxy, radio pulsars and magnetars rotate and produce a beamed emission, like a lighthouse. 

That’s not a very Romantic explanation of the signal. The alien sending out the signal like E.T.’s heart would be a lot more interesting. But the discovery could help researchers determine at what speed the universe is expanding.

What I do find capital R Romantic is the idea of this “heartbeat” billions of light-years away. Since the time of Edwin Hubble, it has been known the Universe is expanding. More recently, observations have shown that this expansion is accelerating. The reason for this acceleration is unknown but it has been suggested that “Dark Energy” is causing the expansion rate to increase. The origin and physics of this Dark Energy are presently unknown.

I Want To Believe They Are Trying to Make Contact

Did you see in the news that Canadian astronomers have revealed some details about mysterious signals emanating from a distant galaxy. They don’t really know the exact nature and the origin of the radio waves. But don’t they pick up these signals all of time?

Actually, they don’t get these kinds of signals. This has only been reported once before.The 13 FRBs (fast radio bursts) had a very unusual repeating signal. They were all coming the same source about 1.5 billion light years away. Let’s repeat that – 1.5 billion light years away.

These cosmic puzzles were picked up by the CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia. It has four 100-metre-long, semi-cylindrical antennas, which scan the entire northern sky each day. The telescope only went into operation last year and almost immediately detected the radio bursts.

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At least a quarter of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy have a planet with surface conditions very similar to Earth and the chemistry of life as we know it could develop. With tens of billions of stars in the Milky Way, it is quite likely we are not alone.

Are the aliens trying to contact us? Contact? They may already be visiting.

The solidly unscientific The New Yorker asks “Have Aliens Found Us?” in an interview with a Harvard astronomer about a mysterious interstellar object.

This story starts back in October 2017 when astronomers at the University of Hawaii spotted something strange out there in our solar system. They named it ‘Oumuamua which is the Hawaiian word for a scout or messenger. They described it as “a red and extremely elongated asteroid.”

Big deal. I write about asteroids all the time. Ah, but this was the first interstellar object to be detected within our solar system.

The interview was with Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, who was co-author on a paper about ‘Oumuamua’s “peculiar acceleration.” That is, it wasn’t moving like most asteroids.

Loeb suggested that the object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilization.” Whoa.

Headline #2: He later said that we might communicate with the civilization that sent the probe, and “If these beings are peaceful, we could learn a lot from them.”

I’m a bit suspicious of those scientists who detected ‘Oumuamua said that they saw it “too late” in its journey to photograph it.

There is no photo of the object, but based on how it spins and how its brightness changes, it is assumed to look like a cigar. Or a pancake.

It was the deviation from the expected orbit that interested Loeb and some others.  Where is it getting the extra push in acceleration? Maybe it is the light from the sun. That would happen with a solar sail. But that would mean it would have to be less than a millimeter thick in order for that to work. And that would be mean that someone had made it.  A scout from a technological civilization?

Loeb admits that if some other distant civilization sent out ‘Oumuamua, they might not exist any more. We have sent out lots of stuff from the Voyager spacecrafts to episodes of I Love Lucy and by the time those aliens outside our solar system discover our stuff and figure out how to play that Voyager record and why Lucy always wanted to be in Ricky’s shows, we may not exist.

I hope one of us makes contact before it’s all over.