Artificial Intelligence Has Detected 72 Radio Signals From a Mysterious Source In Space

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 11:21AM
NASA
Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 11:21AM
Artificial Intelligence Has Detected 72 Radio Signals From a Mysterious Source In Space
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Image Credit: Composite by Outer Places from original by JPL/Caltech
Among the greatest mysteries in radio astronomy are things called FRBs, which stands for fast radio bursts. They are short, very powerful signals that often occur only once. Astronomers have been detecting and tracing the general location of FRBs for years, but according to Science Alert, 72 previously recorded signals of unknown origin would have gone unnoticed were it not for artificial intelligence.

Researchers at the SETI Institute's (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Breakthrough Listen project trained a convolutional neural network (ConvNet) to go through 400 terabytes of existing radio signal data from a repeating FRB (FRB 121102) that is 3 billion light years away and was first discovered in 2012. While digging through the signals from 2017, the ConvNet found 72 signals that researchers had initially missed. "This work is exciting not just because it helps us understand the dynamic behavior of fast radio bursts in more detail, but also because of the promise it shows for using machine learning to detect signals missed by classical algorithms," said Breakthrough Listen principal investigator and Berkeley SETI Research Center director, Andrew Siemion. The new additions bring the total number of signals detected from FRB 121102 up to 300.

"This work is only the beginning of using these powerful methods to find radio transients," said UC Berkley student Gerry Zhang, who is also a part of Breakthrough Listen. "We hope our success may inspire other serious endeavors in applying machine learning to radio astronomy." FRBs can generate as much energy as  hundreds of millions of suns so they are well worth studying, but they are also unpredictable and their origins are still a mystery. Of course, one theory is that they are being emitted from alien technology, but we just don't have the proof. "Whether or not FRBs themselves eventually turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Breakthrough Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a new and rapidly growing area of our understanding of the Universe around us," said Siemion.
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