Science 3 min read

Closing in on the Mysterious Repeating Fast Radio Bursts

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

First discovered in 2007, Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are among the least understood cosmic phenomena, and maybe the most perplexing mystery in astronomy.

Astrophysicists are puzzled by these ultra-powerful radio pulses from deep space that suddenly appear in their radio telescope data for a few milliseconds before mysteriously disappearing.

Our Sun is a massive star with large power output on which life here on Earth depends. But compared to a random fast radio burst, it’s nothing

During the fraction of a second they popped off, FRBs release staggering amounts of energy, shining brighter than 500 million Suns put together.

But as more events allow scientists to collect additional data, and with the help of advanced tech like AI algorithms, fast radio bursts would slowly reveal their secrets.

The “Repeaters” Help Crack the Mystery of Fast Radio Bursts

Last June, an international research team reported that, for the first time, they could trace an FRB event back to its source in the far reaches of space. This one-off radio burst FRB 180924 originated in a massive galaxy in the constellation Grus, some four billion light-years away from us.

But as there’s plenty of nonrepeating FRBs, astronomers also detected some repeating FRBs, and it’s these events that they hope would help elucidate the phenomenon.

The first and only repetitive FRB was FRB 121102, detected in 2017. That’s until last January when the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope discovered the second repeated event, FRB 180814.

Now, CHIME radio telescope is back with the detection of eight new repeating FRBs, bringing the total to 10 repeaters. Actually, the total of the repeater FRBs would be 11 with a new detection from Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, but the results are yet to be published.

Their fleeting nature and the fact that most are one-off events make FRBs reasonably common. However, it’s been tough for astronomers to pinpoint their source.

To come to a conclusive explanation of FRBs, it’s crucial to pinpoint their source first. And, it’s been made easier now with a growing catalog of repeater FRBs.

With this new set of eight signals, researchers are closing in on a concrete explanation as to what causes them. At the moment, their priority is to pinpoint the host galaxies of each of these repetitive bursts — the first step toward developing a theory about the nature of these events.

In another paper published last month, “The prevalence of repeating fast radio bursts,”

Vikram Ravi, a Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist, suggests that all FRBs are actually repeaters. It’s just that some might be less active than others.

Think of FRBs as volcanic eruptions. Some volcanoes are more active than others. Some are classified as dormant since their last eruption happened a long time ago, and there’s also a category of extinct volcanoes.

Scientists have previously suggested magnetars, highly magnetized neutron stars, as the source of FRBs. Or neutron-star collisions, but it could be something entirely new that our physics is yet to describe.

Read More: Researchers Discover New Fast Radio Bursts Using Artificial Intelligence

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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