One of the biggest puzzles in the scientific community right now is the source of a series of fast radio bursts, which have been picked up by various observatories over the last 10 years. These bursts of energy have baffled astronomers, and the scientific community has failed to come up with a solid explanation for what’s causing them. The most popular theory is that the bursts are caused by powerful cosmic events, millions of light years away. But, a new theory is one that will get sci-fi fans very, very excited.
“Fast radio bursts are exceedingly bright given their short duration and origin at great distances, and we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence,” said study co-author Avi Loeb, a theorist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement. “An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking.”
One of the possible artificial origins put forward by the paper is a huge alien launch system, powerful enough to send large spacecraft through interstellar space at high speeds. The theory suggests that aliens civilizations could be generating these high-powered energy bursts to propel spacecraft through space much like a surfer would ride a wave or a sailboat would cruise along on the wind.
The paper suggests that an object roughly twice the size of Earth could harness the power of a star and convert it into high-powered laser beams. Those beams could then be fired at a sailed spacecraft and used to propel it at high speeds. As a Star Wars fan, I like to imagine this as Starkiller Base firing its weapon at a Star Destroyer with a huge light-sail in order to send it on its way at faster-than-light speeds. Sure, that’s pretty reductive, but it’s a nice image either way.
If such technology were being used, the paper argues that the remnants of those blasts would be detectable billions of light years away here on Earth.
It sounds like an outlandish theory, but when you take the outlandish nature of these energy bursts, the idea that they are generated by some form of technology isn’t as illogical as it first seems. To put it plainly, scientists have never observed a natural cosmic occurrence that could come close to generating the amount of power seen in these fast radio bursts. It is, therefore, only natural that artificial sources are considered as one of the many possibilities.
If you’re still scoffing at the idea, you might be interested to know that human space exploration actually might be headed in a similar direction, albeit on a much smaller scale. Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Starshot project plans to send a tiny spacecraft through space at high speeds using a light beam aimed directly at its sail (seen above). It’s thought that this little interstellar explorer could reach speeds of 20% the speed of light, allowing it to reach Alpha Centauri (roughly one light year away) in just twenty years.
When asked if he truly believed aliens were behind these fast radio bursts, Loeb had the following response.
“Science isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of evidence. Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”
Image Credit: M. Weiss/CfA