Mysterious 'repeater' fast radio burst detected from faraway galaxy

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment telescope in British Columbia

Fast radio bursts are bright pulses of radio emission mere milliseconds in duration, thought to originate from distant galaxies.

Studying FRBs is hard because they are so rare.

There are a number of theories about what's causing FRBs, including the possibility that a neutron star is releasing powerful signals after it exploded or even, albeit held by only a small minority, that they're signals from an alien civilization.

While millisecond long radio flashes aren't rare in space, this is the second one that has repeated itself.

The radio waves were detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), the world's most powerful radio telescope, spread across an area as big as a football pitch. CHIME is a partnership between the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the Canadian National Research Council's Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.

The repeating FRB was one of a total of 13 bursts detected over a period of just three weeks during the summer of 2018.

Of the 13 signals that were picked up, at least seven were recorded at 400 MHz - the lowest frequency of any such radio burst discovered till date.

This is because CHIME's telescope is quite advanced in comparison to the ones that were being used before, and operates in the lower ranges of 400 MHz - the next one was at 700 MHz.

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Before CHIME, the majority of FRBs detected had been found at frequencies close to 1,400 megahertz. "It might point to a difference between their internal mechanisms".

"[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth. 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". A lucky moment in 2015 resulted in the detection of multiple FRBs coming from the same location, which differs from random fast radio bursts that appear isolated in different locations.

The mystery of fast radio bursts has always been a large part of their appeal, Ng said.

The scientists note that the repeaters were observed at a lower frequency compared to other recorded FRBs.

Mysterious repeating energy bursts have been detected for only the second time. One of the most recent FRBs contained roughly 25 million times more energy than our star. They're hoping this new data will help them figure out more details about what created them.

"FRBs were an unexpected mystery". Unlike every other source discovered by CHIME so far, this object produced repeated bursts-six were identified in data taken during the instrument's commissioning.

"I think that bodes very well for all the FRB searches coming online in the near future", she told Gizmodo. "I look forward to the day when we have hundreds of repeaters".

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