09/07/2013 04:48 BST | Updated 07/09/2013 06:12 BST

Nasa Discovers 'Radio Bursts' From Beyond Our Galaxy

Nasa says it has discovered bursts of radio waves from outside our own galaxy for the first time.

The cause of the radio bursts is unknown, though they originate from 'billions' of light years away.

But while you might be dreaming of an inter-galactic version of 'Just A Minute', Nasa cautioned that the waves are probably the result of a 'cataclysmic' event - probably a super-nova or the merger of two stars.

Four radio bursts have been detected in total, following the discovery of one burst about six years ago. The wave with the most distant origin arrived from more than 11 billion light-years away and lasted for just a few milliseconds.

parkes observatory

The waves were identified by an international team using the Parkes Observatory in Australia (above), including scientists at the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Their work is detailed in the July 4 edition of Science.

The find 'erases' any doubt that the radio waves originate from beyond our galaxy, Nasa said.

The task of detecting the bursts from local interference - including mobile phone signals and aircraft - was "enormous", according to the study's authors.

"Short radio bursts are really tricky to identify," explained Sarah Burke Spolaor of JPL. "Our team had to search 11 months of data covering a large sky area to find them."

Nasa explained:

"Our sky is full of flares and bursts of varying natures. For instance, gamma-ray bursts are thought to occur when stars collapse into black holes. They are routinely detected by a network of telescopes on the ground and in space, including Nasa's Swift and Fermi. When one telescope in the network detects a burst, it can notify others to quickly slew to the target for coordinated observations.

The newfound radio bursts, while likely of a different origin than gamma-ray bursts, also consist of light waves generated by powerful events happening at great distances.

Researchers would like to develop systems similar to the gamma-ray burst networks of telescopes to follow up quickly on radio bursts, but this is more challenging because radio waves are slowed by gas in space. Time is needed to process the radio observations and tease out the short-lived bursts."

It is not known exactly what is triggering the radio waves, but theories include black holes, colliding super-dense stars or some other as-yet unknown phenomenon involving huge amounts of energy.