What makes FRBs so important and also so exciting? Is there something more to them than we dare to consider? Credit: SETI

Are Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Signals From Alien Civilizations?

Are repeating fast radio bursts what scientists believe they are - powerful radio waves originating from magnetars or other celestial objects, or are they something more?


Let us consider the following question: Is there anything coming from deep space in our direction that has not been immediately linked to countless theories of alien civilizations?

In the last couple of years, we can put fast radio bursts at the forefront, because scientists have managed not only to notice a lot of them but also locate some of their sources.

This was the first fast radio burst signal detected in 2007 in old data. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
This was the first fast radio burst signal detected in 2007 in old data. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Our history with fast radio bursts is relatively short. Undoubtedly, they have existed long before humans were around but we only learned about them less than 15 years ago in 2007. While the first such signals were caught in 2001, it took scientists 6 years to find them in their old data.

To get to my final point, I would have to take you through this brief history of fast radio bursts and discuss the sequence of events and discoveries.

In the early days, scientists had doubts that the signals originated from space. Many believed that they came from Earth and were misidentified. This debate was put to an end when experts intercepted four new fast radio bursts in 2013 which confirmed their “alien” identity.

Three years later, scientists confirmed the existence of repeating fast radio bursts with the discovery of not only a signal, but its actual region of origin – a distant galaxy at around 2.6 billion light-years from us. Fast-forward another four years to the strange year that is about to end in a couple of weeks – 2020, and we now have over 100 known fast radio bursts and at least 20 of them repeating.

Besides the obvious discovery of dozens of new signals, what changed in 2020 that made them so much more important? Unlike the previous cases that all originated from deep space outside the Milky Way, scientists caught the first fast radio bursts from within our galaxy.

The first two bursts were captured on April 27 by two individual NASA telescopes and we can say that this was an absolute breakthrough. Until then, scientists were unable to link any of these signals to an exact source. However, these two bright FRBs which we call FRB 200428 were traced to a magnetar within the Milky Way called SGR 1935 + 2154.

The two fast radio bursts from the magnetar within the Milky Way caught by scientists in the Netherlands. Credit: Nature Astronomy
The two fast radio bursts from the magnetar within the Milky Way caught by scientists in the Netherlands. Credit: Nature Astronomy

Later on, in May, scientists from the Netherlands caught two new fast radio bursts from the same magnetar, thus confirming that they were repeating although infrequent. The difference with this second “wave” was that the signals were significantly weaker.

To some extent, this discovery proves that certain fast radio bursts originate from a certain type of celestial object. However, can we confirm that all signals come from magnetars? For now, we know of only this source within the Milky Way but there is no guarantee that the ones from deep space are the same type. For all we know, they might be coming from merging black holes or from a completely different phenomenon.

Our Take on the Subject

The main problem, of course, is that catching such signals is extremely difficult. Each burst lasts milliseconds and although it can be as bright as an entire galaxy, it is nearly impossible to intercept it.

And of course, in the end, there will always be theories that link them to alien civilizations.

Even if we one day understand fast radio bursts entirely, there will still be theorists that believe they are sent by aliens.

If we accept that aliens exist somewhere in space, which is something I believe in, we need to consider several factors that I believe make the connection with FRBs impossible.

It is pretty simple if you think about it. A single fast radio burst like the ones we know contains the energy of millions of Suns. Furthermore, as I said above, an FRB can be brighter than an entire galaxy. In other words, what kind of technology do people expect aliens have to be able to send such a signal throughout space? Such capabilities have not been depicted even in the most daring movies. Okay, maybe a Death Star can compare to some extent but it will not even be close.

Here are several other questions that I would like to discuss. If aliens exist in the deepness of space, why would they bother with attempts to communicate with us in this way? What do they expect from this kind of communication? If they have the technology to send such powerful signals, shouldn’t they know that our own technological progress does not have the ability to return the call?

Let’s imagine that each of these fast radio bursts contains information. We would apparently not have the capability to decipher it and understand it. And even if we did, we would not be able to send a proper answer.

What I’m saying is that I do not see this as a possible attempt at communication. For now, I’d rather believe in what experts claim and stick to the proven facts that point the fast radio bursts to magnetars. Of course, this refers to the ones from within the Milky Way.

I have no doubt that elaborate research will lead to big answers for the origin of the FRBs from deep space. Maybe it would take years or even decades but some kind of solution will be found in the end.

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• Kirsten, F., Snelders, M., Jenkins, M., Nimmo, K., Eijnden, J., Hessels, J., . . . Yang, J. (2020, November 16). Detection of two bright radio bursts from magnetar SGR 1935 + 2154.

Renard, A. (2020, November 04). Mysterious radio signal spotted in Milky Way for first time.

Spitler1, L., Cordes2, J., Hessels3, J., Lorimer5, D., McLaughlin5, M., Chatterjee2, S., . . . Https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7261-594X, K. (2014, July 10). IOPscience.

UoMNews. (n.d.). Jodrell Bank leads international effort which reveals 157 day cycle in unusual cosmic radio bursts.


Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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