Radio signal 9 billion light years away: what it means and where it came from

Radio signal 9 billion light years away: what it means and where it came from

A radio signal nearly 9 billion light-years away from Earth was captured in a new image, detected by India’s giant Metrewave radio telescope.

McGill University said in a press release that this was the first time this type of radio signal had been detected at such a great distance. Space.com reported that the signal could mean scientists can start investigating some of the earliest stars and galaxies.

This isn’t the first time scientists have received a mysterious signal from space.

Last July, astronomers from MIT and other universities in the US and Canada discovered a persistent signal from a distant galaxy of unknown astrophysical origin, and in 2020, a mysterious signal from Proxima Centauri created waves.

The GMRT, one of the TIFRs (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) and India's largest projects to date.

The GMRT, one of the TIFRs (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) and India’s largest projects to date.
((Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images))

9 BILLION LIGHT YEARS RADIO SIGNAL CAPTURED FROM EARTH

But do these signals mean we’re not alone? The answer at the moment is no – although an intentional signal has been sent to space.

Researchers said in 2021, according to Nature, that the Proxima Centauri signal was likely “man-made radio interference,” and that the source of the “rapid radio burst” signal was likely a radio pulsar or a magnetar, both of which are types of neutron stars.

A view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, is seen in an undated artist's impression released by the European Southern Observatory on Aug. 24, 2016.

A view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, is seen in an undated artist’s impression released by the European Southern Observatory on Aug. 24, 2016.
(ESO/M. Kornmesser/Handout via Reuters)

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“There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals,” Daniele Michilli, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said at the time. “Examples we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce a beamed emission similar to a lighthouse. And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or pulsar on steroids.”

PUNE, INDIA MARCH 21, 2012: The GMRT

PUNE, INDIA MARCH 21, 2012: The GMRT
((Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images))

In this most recent case, the properties of the signal indicate that it originated from gaseous neutral hydrogen in a star-forming galaxy called “SDSSJ0826+5630”.

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McGill said the signal was sent out by the galaxy when the universe was only 4.9 billion years old.

“It’s the equivalent of looking back in time 8.8 billion years,” Arnab Chakraborty, a postdoctoral researcher at McGill University, said in a statement.

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