Breakthrough Listen, an initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, has detected 15 brief but powerful radio pulses emanating from a mysterious and repeating source – FRB 121102 – far across the universe.

Fast radio bursts are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant but largely unknown sources, and FRB 121102 is the only one known to repeat: more than 150 high-energy bursts have been observed coming from the object, which was identified last year as a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth.

Possible explanations for the repeating bursts range from outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields – so-called magnetars – to a more speculative idea: They are directed energy sources, powerful laser bursts used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft, akin to Breakthrough Starshot’s plan to use powerful laser pulses to propel nano-spacecraft to Earth’s nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

“Bursts from this source have never been seen at this high a frequency,” said Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and of the Breakthrough Listen program.

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