The strange and quick flashes of light that were first detected in 2007 have puzzled astronomers for almost a decade. Finally, scientists claim to have traced the source of these Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs). These mysterious pulses of radio waves originate from a place scientists did not expect at all: a tiny galaxy located three billion light years away, according to a study published in the journal Nature.
They last for a fraction of a second
The Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are powerful but short-lived flashes of radio waves. The first such waves were discovered in 2007 in the archived data of the Parkes Radio Telescope. Since then, various telescopes from around the world have found 18 FRBs. Though the FRBs last just for a fraction of a second, they emit more energy than our sun would emit in 10,000 years, according to Space.com.
Astronomers estimate that one FRB occurs in the sky every ten seconds. Researchers initially thought that the FRBs must have been coming from an exploding supernova, a bright galaxy or a supermassive black hole. Shami Chatterjee, the co-author of the study, said we now know that it’s coming from a dwarf galaxy three billion light years from Earth.
FRB 121102 only known recurring FRB
Scientists struggled to pinpoint the source of these waves for years because they were too quick to map. In 2012, astronomers detected the 18th burst at an observatory in New Mexico. This FRB was unique in that it kept repeating. Named FRB 121102, this flash occurred nine times over a period of six months in 2016, allowing scientists to pinpoint its origin.
Since it is the only known recurring FRB, it’s quite possible that FRB 121102 could represent a different phenomenon than other FRBs. It’s still unclear what cosmic event is causing the release of such intense Fast Radio Bursts. Researchers also found in the same region a persistent source of weaker radio emission. They believe that the persistent source and FRBs are either the same object or associated with each other. The two are estimated to be within 100 light years of each other.
Are neutron stars emitting the Fast Radio Bursts?
Shriharsh Tendulkar, the co-author of the study, said in a statement that the dwarf galaxy has far fewer stars than our Milky Way. But it is forming stars at a higher rate, which indicates that the FRBs are related to the young neutron stars. Neutron stars are objects that form after a star explodes and its “remaining material collapses on itself,” according to Space.com
A lot is still unknown about the Fast Radio Bursts. But at least scientists now know where they come from. Tracing and studying other FRBs would be a major challenge for astronomers.
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