Fast radio burst (FRB): Mysterious repeating radio signal in deep space discovered

Gwen Vasquez
January 10, 2019

The "fast radio burst" was found by a new Canadian telescope, which detected a total of 13 radio bursts over the course of three weeks.

Kaspi said CHIME quickly detected a source that sent out a series of six fast radio bursts. "But intelligent life is not on the minds of any astronomer as a source of these FRBs", he said.

Another notable attribute of the new FRBs is their unusually low radio frequencies - coming in at 800 megahertz rather than the 1,400 megahertz of most previously detected signals.

The FRBs show various temporal scattering behaviours, with the majority significantly scattered, and some apparently unscattered to within measurement uncertainty even at our lowest frequencies.

'Or near the central black hole in a galaxy.

The CHIME team, which designed and built the telescope, includes 14 scientists from the University of B.C. alongside others from McGill University, the University of Toronto, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the National Research Council of Canada. They don't know whether the bursts are like flashbulbs, lighting up the sky in every direction, or focused beams, which would require less energy but must be more frequent for Earth to see so many of them.

"Whatever the source of these radio waves is, it's interesting to see how wide a range of frequencies it can produce", said CHIME scientist Arun Naidu of McGill University.

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Though scientists don't yet have an explanation for fast radio bursts, the latest signals reveal significant levels of "scattering" - details that could help scientists better characterize the nature of the astrophysical environs from which they originate.

Seeing two repeating signals probably means there exists a "substantial population" of repeating signals, the researchers write in one of the two papers published in Nature. "It is still an early field though, so it is hard to put concrete constraints on the theories, but our work is a new step in that direction". The source of this repeating FRB is located about 1.5 billion light-years from Earth, which is considerably closer than FRB 1211012, which was twice as far away.

It's within the realm of possibility, he said, that there are several types of FRB, each created by a different kind of celestial cataclysm. "I think we are just drawn to anything unknown". "Now we're showing, no, at least one other repeats". While interesting, these new observations, he said, can not tell us about the nature of these sources-at least not yet.

He added: "That tells us something about the environments and the sources".

Significantly, the 2012 and 2018 "repeaters" have strikingly similar properties.

As technology improves and instruments used to study the cosmos become more and more advanced, we're answering a lot of questions about our place in the universe, but we're also coming up with entirely new ones.

Awesome - we're very much looking forward to that as well.

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