Energy bursts in space outshine Sun

Katie Ramirez
November 6, 2020

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) first came to the attention of astronomers thirteen years ago when Duncan Lorimer and his colleagues found a dispersed radio pulse signal in data collected by the Parkes 64-metre telescope in Australia in 2001.

It's about 30,000 light-years away, which is interesting because all previous FRB detections have come from beyond our Milky Way galaxy.

These radio bursts can be more powerful than the sun by 100 million times, although they only last for a fraction of a second but. "It bridges the gap between the activity in our own galaxy and these unusual events from many light years away", says Brian Metzger of Columbia University in NY, who was not involved in this work.

Astrophysicists have detected a burst of cosmic radio waves within our galaxy for the first time and identified its source, according to research published Wednesday that sheds new light on one of the mysteries of the Universe.

However, even if the astronomers' theory is right at the FRB originated from a magnetar, it still isn't clear how the highly magnetised neutron stars could produce the bursts of energy and range of electromagnetic emissions at the same time.

These radio bursts were tracked down to a weird type of star called a magnetar which was 32,000 light-years away from Earth.

One of the astrophysicists from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope in Canada, Daniele Michilli, explained: "This is the most luminous radio burst ever detected in our galaxy".

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Most theories proposed that some kind of stellar remnant such as a neutron star, dense remnants of giant stars that have gone supernova, were the source of FRBs.

"The bursts seen by NICER and Fermi during the storm are clearly different in their spectral characteristics from the one associated with the radio blast", said George Younes, a researcher at George Washington University in Washington and the lead author of two papers analyzing the burst storm that are now undergoing peer review. Is it some specific property of their magnetic fields?

The occurrence of FRBs outside the milky way is frequent, but astronomers don't have any idea how often these bursts happen inside our galaxy.

To test this, astronomers have tried to narrow down the origin of FRBs to sectors of the sky as small as possible. Is it their flares of radio waves or X-rays?

Paul Scholz, of the Dunlap Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, said that the findings still do not fully explain known FRBs "given the large gaps in energetics and activity between the brightest and most active FRB sources and what is observed for magnetars, perhaps younger, more energetic and active magnetars are needed to explain all FRB observations".

Meanwhile, astronomers are hoping to see more FRBs like FRB 200428 in our own galaxy.

Astronomers don't really know what causes FRBs, but the new signal detected from within our own galaxy offers some vital information which could help solve the mystery. That could give us a better understanding if this one event was an offshoot - or the final piece of the FRB puzzle.

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