It’s a big Universe – anybody out there?
Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute

The “Breakthrough Listen” campaign, a project to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, has detected 15 fast radio bursts (FRBs) emanating from the mysterious “repeater” FRB 121102.

Could these brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant galaxies be signatures of extraterrestrial technology?

Breakthrough Listen is a global astronomical initiative launched in 2015 by Internet investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

Green Bank Telescope (GBT) telescope, located in West Virginia.
Credit: NSF

Telescope observations

Breakthrough Listen announced today that West Virginia-based Green Bank Telescope observations of a dwarf galaxy three billion light years away reveal 15 bursts of radio emission. This is the first time bursts from this source have been seen at these frequencies.

The Listen science team at UC Berkeley added FRB 121102 to their list of targets. In the early hours of Saturday, August 26, UC Berkeley Postdoctoral Researcher Vishal Gajjar observed the location of FRB 121102 using the Breakthrough Listen digital backend instrument at the Green Bank facility.

New pulses

Analysis by Gajjar and the Listen team revealed 15 new pulses from FRB 121102. As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before.

Credit: Breakthrough Initiative

The Listen backend, which is able to record several gigahertz of bandwidth at a time, split into billions of individual channels, enable a new view of the frequency spectrum of FRBs, and should shed additional light on the processes giving rise to FRB emission.

Possible explanations

Whether or not FRBs are indeed signatures of extraterrestrial technology remains a TBD, according to Breakthrough Listen.

Credit: Breakthrough Listen

According to a press statement released today: “Possible explanations for FRBs range from outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields, to more speculative ideas that they are directed energy sources used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft.”

Observations may indicate FRB 121102 is currently in a heightened activity state, notes Gajjar “and follow-on observations are encouraged, particularly at higher radio frequencies.”


The new results are reported as an Astronomer’s Telegram and will be described in further detail in an upcoming scientific journal article.

Go to:

Also, go to this Breakthrough Listen-provided linked graphic that shows 14 of the 15 detected bursts in succession, illustrating their dispersed spectrum and extreme variability:

For additional information on the various Breakthrough Initiatives, go to:


One Response to “Fast Radio Bursts: New Pulses from ET?”

  • How much power would be required to produce artificial radio bursts detectable three billion light years away? Is there any way to do this consistent with the laws of physics?

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