Mysterious fast radio burst discovered emitting from nearby galaxy

Katie Ramirez
January 9, 2020

These recent findings could help solve the mystery of unexplained fast radio bursts that have been sent through the universe.

The source of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) - sudden bursts of radio waves lasting a few thousandths of a second - has remained unknown since their discovery in 2007.

It's a location unlike any of the others, and astronomers are having to rethink their previous assumptions about how these signals are generated.

And the FRBs are emanating specifically from a region just seven light-years across - a region that's alive with star formation. "FRBs may be made in a large zoo from locations across the universe and only certain conditions need to be visible". That implied that the two varieties of fast radio bursts, or FRBs, might have different sources (SN: 6/27/19). However, as time passes, they can discharge more energy than 500 million Suns.

The researchers hope that further studies will reveal the conditions that result in the production of these mysterious transient radio pulses, and address some of the many unanswered questions they pose. These are impossible to predict, which makes them extremely hard to trace - to date, only three have had their origin localised to a galaxy.

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"The differences between repeating and non-repeating fast radio bursts are therefore less clear and we believe that these events may not be related to a particular type of galaxy or environment", said Kenzie Nimmo, co-author and PhD student at the University of Amsterdam.

'Although over a hundred FRB sources have been discovered, only four have been localized and associated with a host galaxy and just one of these four is known to emit repeating FRBs.

An global team of astronomers used eight telescopes participating in the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network to conduct follow-up observations in the direction of FRB 180916. In fact, it is seven times closer than the other localized repeating FRB and over 10 times closer than non-repeating ones that have been traced. Researchers are hopeful that this latest observation will enable further studies that unravel the possible explanations behind fast radio bursts, according to CHIME. In this case, through a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry, the repeating FRB was detected in the "arm" of a Milky Way-like spiral galaxy half a billion light-years away. For better understanding, the Faraday effect occurs when electromagnetic radiation interacts with a magnetic field.

According to the researchers, it is a hard task to estimate the size, mass, and shape of the galaxy from within, as the Milky Way Galaxy is surrounded by a layer of interstellar gases and the occluding stars. This added a new chapter to the mystery surrounding their origin because it is in a very different environment compared with the first ever signal pinpointed, FRB 121102. "This discovery was the first piece of the puzzle, but it also raised more questions than were resolved, such as whether there was a fundamental difference between repeating and non-repeating FRBs. Now, we have localised a second repeating FRB, which challenges our previous ideas on what the source of these bursts could be". But they apparently don't know what's causing it, even after a decade of research.

The repeating rapid burst of radio waves was attributed to one of the spiral arms of a Milky Way galaxy.

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