SETI Talks: Mysterious Radio Signals in the Milky Way

SETI Talks

Tags: SETI Talks, SETI, Astronomy

Time: Wednesday, Mar 23, 2022 -

Location: Online

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At the end of 2021, a group of astronomers detected unusual signals from deep in the heart of the Milky Way. More recently, another group happened upon a celestial object releasing giant bursts of energy, unlike anything ever seen before. These mysterious signals, which seem natural, were discovered using recently built radio astronomy facilities, such as the Murchison Widefield Array telescope and the ASKAP radio telescope, both in Australia.

These objects are unique so far, and radio astronomers around the world are looking back in their data to see if there have been similar detections in other parts of the galaxy. Are these rare one-off events or a vast new population we never noticed before?

It’s still unclear what truly are, but it’s inevitable that within the next decade, with the arrival of the transcontinental Square Kilometer Array (SKA), more of them may be found and help astronomers to solve mysteries like their origin.

To discuss these discoveries, we invited two researchers: Tara Murphy, professor at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Sydney, and Natasha Hurley-Walker, head of the extragalactic radio astronomy group at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, both are involved in the recent publication of these mysterious and transient signals.

Both researchers will describe the instrument used for these remarkable discoveries, some hypotheses on the nature of those signals and discuss the golden future of radio astronomy. Of course, we will discuss whether we can reject an artificial origin for those signals. Are we sure that those are not simply advanced civilizations trying to communicate with us?

Franck Marchis, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, will moderate the discussion.

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Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker

Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker uses novel radio telescopes to explore the Universe at some of the longest wavelengths of light. After receiving her Ph.D. in Radio Astronomy from the University of Cambridge, she moved to Australia to help commission the Murchison Widefield Array, a precursor instrument to the Square Kilometer Array, which will be the world's largest radio telescope. Her work has revealed the radio glow of our own Milky Way galaxy, ancient cosmic explosions, as well as hundreds of thousands of distant galaxies via "radio color" surveys, observed across such a wide range of frequencies that the unique spectrum of every object can be used to understand its underlying physics. For her science, work in gender equity, and outreach activities, she has been named a WA Tall Poppies Scientist of the Year (2017), an ABC Top 5 Scientist (2018) and a Superstar of STEM (2019–2020). She is head of the extragalactic radio astronomy group at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. She is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow leading the GLEAM-X survey to explore the radio sky in new ways, leading to the recent discovery of a new and unexpected kind of transient periodic radio source.

Tara Murphy

Tara Murphy is a Professor of Astrophysics working in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. She is a CI of the ASKAP Variables and Slow Transients project and leads Australia’s expertise in radio transients surveys. Since 2015 she has led the Australian effort in radio follow-up of gravitational wave events, culminating in the first detection of radio emission from a binary neutron star merger GW170817 in collaboration with international colleagues. She has obtained over $5 million of grant funding to support her research, and co-authored over 150 scientific publications. Tara's research has featured on national television and radio, newspapers and social media.

Tara has extensive research leadership and management experience. She has held a number of senior roles, including and Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, Deputy Head of School of Physics at the University of Sydney, Member of the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Faculty Steering Committee, Member of the MWA Telescope Executive Board, and Member of the Executive Committee for the OzGrav Centre of Excellence.

This SETI Talks will be online only and will not be live streamed on social media, please make sure to register for access to this event.