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Mysterious alien radio signals may be caused by "starquakes"

For over a decade, scientists have captured mysterious radio signals traveling through space, unsure of their origin. Some experts think aliens might be emitting these fast radio bursts (FRBs) to contact Earth, while others believe black holes produce them.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) were first detected in 2007. They are considered to be one of the biggest astronomical mysteries. We do not know their exact origins, only that they emanate from far outside of our galaxy.

Now, thanks to new research, we may finally have some information about what produces fast radio bursts. Findings from a recent study suggests they are caused by “starquakes” on spinning neutron stars, which possess the most powerful magnetic fields in the universe.

A starquake is born

The two-person research team from the University of Tokyo, led by Professor Tomonori Totani, analyzed the time and energy of about 7,000 FRBs previously reported in the literature. They identified similarities between fast radio bursts (FRBs) and earthquakes.

The goal of the research was to compare three phenomena –- earthquakes, solar flares, and FRBs. The experts performed a correlation function analysis of repeating FRBs in the 2D space of time and energy on these bursts, which covers the three known most active sources of FRBs.

They also applied the same approach in assessing the time-energy correlation of solar flares and earthquakes (using Japanese data).

What the researchers learned 

The properties of the bursts observed were quantitatively similar to those of earthquakes, but different from those of solar flares in several aspects.

“By examining the correlation functions in time-energy space, we found remarkable similarities between the statistical properties of FRBs and earthquakes, especially the laws on aftershock occurrence,” said the researchers.

They also found that the correlation functions for solar flares differ significantly from those of FRBs and earthquakes.

According to Professor Totani, “this strongly suggests the existence of a solid crust on the surface of neutron stars, and that starquakes suddenly occurring on these crusts releases huge amounts of energy which we see as FRBs.”

Starquakes need further study

The team plans to further analyze the new data obtained on FRBs. The goal is to establish that the observed similarities are universal.

“By studying starquakes on distant ultra-dense stars, which are completely different environments from Earth, we may gain new insights into earthquakes,” said Totani.

“The interior of a neutron star is the densest place in the universe, comparable to that of the interior of an atomic nucleus. Starquakes in neutron stars have opened up the possibility of gaining new insights into very high-density matter and the fundamental laws of nuclear physics.”

Understanding fast radio bursts 

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are super intense, millisecond-long bursts of radiowaves. They were discovered by Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic in 2007 during their analysis of the archival pulsar survey data.

FRBs appear like flickering stars but are not stars. They are primarily extragalactic, but the CHIME radio telescope detected the first Milky Way FRB in April 2020. Since then, several FRNs have been recorded by astronomers.

Thanks to the findings of this study, we are a step closer to understanding the physical origin of FRBs. The discovery could improve our knowledge of earthquakes, the behavior of high-density matter, and other important aspects of nuclear physics.

The study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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