Breakthrough Listen uses machine learning to find fast radio bursts

Scientists searching for fast radio bursts that some believe may be signals sent from aliens may be happening every second. The blue points in this artist's impression of the filamentary structure of galaxies that extends across the entire sky are

Scientists searching for fast radio bursts that some believe may be signals sent from aliens may be happening every second. The blue points in this artist's impression of the filamentary structure of galaxies that extends across the entire sky are

Previous studies have shown that the bursts from 121102 are emanating from a galaxy 3 billion light years from Earth, but the nature of the object emitting them is still unknown. Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and principal investigator for Breakthrough Listen, said in a statement.

Lickety-split radio bursts are shimmering pulses of radio emission mere milliseconds in duration, conception to originate from distant galaxies. Theories explaining their origin include that they are caused by polarised waves travelling through strong magnetic fields in dense plasma (such as from a neutron star in the cosmic neighbourhood of a galactic core's supermassive black hole or within dense, magnetised nebulas). According to Phys.org, Breakthrough Listen, one of several Breakthrough-themed science research initiatives in cooperation with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, has successfully used artificial intelligence to increase the identification rate for recurring fast radio bursts from a deep space source known as FRB121102.

Machine learning algorithms are also being applied to help Listen search for new kinds of candidate signals from extraterrestrial intelligence. The fast radio bursts were picked out from a data set that had already been analyzed by astronomers.

The data comes from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia (above), which was pointed toward this source of fast and bright (hence the name) bursts for five hours in August of 2017. By analyzing the data using standard computer algorithms, they were able to identify 21 FRB's during the period. The 21 fast radio bursts were all seen within one hour, which suggests that whatever the source of FRB 121102 is, it demonstrated a period of excessive activity. This brings the total number of detected bursts from FRB 121102 to around 300 since it was discovered in 2012.

Zhang's crew passe a few of the similar tactics that net technology companies use to optimize search results and classify photography. Just as the patterns of pulses from pulsars have helped astronomers constrain computer models of the extreme physical conditions in such objects, the new measurements of FRBs will help figure out what powers these enigmatic sources, Siemion said.

In their recent study, the researchers trained their algorithm on simulated signals, teaching it to recognize signs of fast radio bursts, and then "let the trained network loose on the data containing the real signals", Zhang said.

The new algorithm was very helpful in determining that source FRB121102 does not send out bursts at regular intervals (or at least not intervals longer than about 10 ms).

"This work is simply the starting of the use of these noteworthy how to get radio transients", acknowledged Zhang. "We hope our success may inspire other serious endeavours in applying machine learning to radio astronomy".

"Whether or not or not FRBs themselves sooner or later turn out to be signatures of extraterrestrial technology, Step forward Listen is helping to push the frontiers of a unique and swiftly increasing place of residing of our understanding of the Universe spherical us", he added.

Breakthrough Listen is a scientific program in search for evidence of technological life in the Universe.It aims to survey one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical bands.

The results were accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

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