Australian researchers have discovered a record breaking number of brief but powerful bursts of radio waves emanating from deep space.
CSIRO radio telescopes in Western Australia detected 19 of the mysterious blasts, which nearly doubles the total number of known fast radio bursts (FRBs).
Among the 19 signals observed were some of the closest and brightest FRBs ever detected, researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology found, the Daily Mail reports.
Fast radio bursts are elusive signals that last just a few milliseconds, and are thought to originate billions of light-years away – but, scientists don't yet know what causes them.
They also generate an intense blast of energy - enough that it's almost equivalent to the amount released by the sun over the course of 80 years.
"We've found 20 fast radio bursts in a year, almost doubling the number detected worldwide since they were discovered in 2007," Ryan Shannon, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
The scientists say they've also proved that the FRBs are coming from the other side of the universe, "rather than from our own galactic neighborhood."
FRBs typically travel for billions of years, occasionally passing through clouds of gas.
Scientists pay close attention to the arrival of the different wavelengths to learn how much material the burst has traveled through on its journey.
"Each time this happens, the different wavelengths that make up a burst are slowed by different amounts," Jean-Pierre Macquart, a co-author of the study, noted.
"Eventually, the burst reaches Earth with its spread of wavelengths arriving at the telescope at slightly different times, like swimmers at a finish line.
"...And because we've shown that fast radio bursts come from far away, we can use them to detect all the missing matter located in the space between galaxies - which is a really exciting discovery."
Scientists now know that FRBs come from about halfway across the universe, but it's remains unclear what causes them or which galaxies they come from.
Astronomers have previously suggested that the bursts could be coming from a giant cosmic object, such as a neutron star.
Others have even wilder theories that they may originate from a far-flung alien race that's yet to be discovered.
The team from the Swinburne University of Technology is now focusing on pinpointing the locations of the bursts on the sky.
"We'll be able to localise the bursts to better than a thousandth of a degree," Shannon said.
"That's about the width of a human hair seen ten metres away, and good enough to tie each burst to a particular galaxy."
They added that the latest discovery of FRBs is largely due in part to the Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope used to find them.
ASKAP's massive dish has spotted numerous FRBs over the years, earning it the nickname of Sauron, after the fictional dark overlord that's the 'all-seeing eye' of the Lord of the Rings series.
It's gotten so good at spotting FRBs that scientists say it could soon spot new FRBs every few days.
The instrument is equipped with 36 dishes in total, which can be used either to look at one point of the sky, or be pointed in different directions to like the segments of a fly's eye, according to CSIRO.
Using eight dishes, the telescope can see 240 square degrees all at once.
"The telescope has a whopping field of view of 30 square degrees, 100 times larger than the full Moon," said CSIRO's Keith Bannister, who engineered the systems that detected the bursts.
"And, by using the telescope's dish antennas in a radical way, with each pointing at a different part of the sky, we observed 240 square degrees all at once - about a thousand times the area of the full Moon.
"ASKAP is astoundingly good for this work," Bannister added.