SETI Talks Virtual Edition. Fast Radio Bursts: A long-standing mystery about to end?

SETI Talks

Tags: SETI Talks, Fast Radio Bursts, SETI

Time: Wednesday, Apr 22, 2020 -

Location: Online

Once again, we are planning to hold this month’s SETI Talk online. Registration is required in order to receive the link and password; however, capacity is limited. Access will be on a first come first serve basis. Once the virtual room reaches capacity, we will not be able to accommodate more people. We apologize for this inconvenience, but have experienced large numbers of registrations for people who are unable to participate at the last minute, leaving others unable to register. As always, SETI talks will be recorded and available to everyone after it takes place.

In 2007, astronomers detected a radio signal from the sky that was unlike any seen before. It lasted only a
millisecond but was extremely bright. Even more unexpectedly, its characteristics implied that it arrived from an unidentified galaxy billions of light-years away. This type of explosion, more powerful than anything ever observed at similar wavelengths and timescales, is now termed a Fast Radio Burst (FRB).

During the last decades, astronomers have reported the existence of more FRBs, which have become one of the hottest topics in astronomy. They seem to be a common phenomenon; astronomers have detected more than 100 FRBs, and some estimates are that thousands reach Earth every day.

However, we still don’t understand what causes these powerful explosions.  They are tremendously energetic, and the flashes come from billions of light-years away, and something over there can muster sufficient energy to produce a signal detectable here on Earth. Could these signals be due to aliens?

To tell us more about the nature of the FRBs and elaborate on their true nature, we invited two radio astronomers.

  • Daniele Michilli is a Banting Fellow at McGill University. He works with CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment), a new Canadian radio telescope located in Penticton, British Columbia, which is discovering hundreds of new FRBs, including one showing periodic activity.  
  • Wael Farah, a researcher who recently joined the SETI Institute, has developed the FRB detection system. This AI-based software that has detected several FRBs in real-time at the Molonglo Radio Observatory near Canberra, Australia. 

Both researchers will tell us how their current and future work using CHIME and the Allen Telescope Array could unveil the true nature of those FRBs and how their study could help understand our Universe. 

Jill Tarter, Chair Emeritus for SETI Research and trustee at the SETI Institute, will moderate this conversation.

Daniele Michilli

Daniele Michilli was born in Rome, Italy, where he obtained his Master's degree in Astrophysics from la Sapienza University. He then moved to the University of Amsterdam to observe and study pulsars and Fast Radio Bursts. After receiving his Ph.D., Daniele accepted a position at McGill University in Montreal to work with the CHIME telescope. He received a Banting Fellowship to find and study Fast Radio Bursts with CHIME.

Wael Farah

Wael Farah completed his Bachelor's degree in physics and Master's in astrophysics in his home country Lebanon before leaving for Australia in 2016 to do his PhD in astrophysics. For his PhD, Wael performed Fast Radio Burst (FRB) searches using the newly refurbished Molonglo radio telescope, finding some with his real-time detection system that allowed the study of FRBs at high time resolution. Wael recently joined the SETI Institute to work on the Allen Telescope Array and perform new science with the instrument. His research interest include Fast Radio bursts, pulsars (highly rotating neutron stars), instrumentation and machine learning/AI.

Jill Tarter

Dr. Jill Tarter is Chair Emeritus for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth.