Scientists detect second repeating radio burst of unknown origin

The uniquely shaped CHIME telescope in British Columbia

Astronomers over the years have picked up dozens of "fast radio bursts" (FRBs) - mysterious radio signals detected from an unknown part of the cosmos.

Ever since FRBs were first detected, scientists have been piecing together the observed characteristics of signals to come up with models that might explain the sources of the mysterious bursts.

Scientists have put forth numerous possible explanations, including a neutron star with a strong magnetic field that is spinning very rapidly, two neutron starts merging, and a small number say it could even be alien life. While most FRBs have been spotted at wavelengths of a few centimetres, the latest FRBs were detected at wavelengths of almost a metre. Professor Avid Loeb from the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the U.S., said the bursts could be evidence of advanced alien technology.

"That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant", team member and University of Toronto astronomer Cherry Ng said in a statement.

There have been more than 60 FRBs to date, with the only other repeating fast radio burst discovered in 2015 using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. "We estimate that there are up to 1,000 of these bursts in the entire sky every day", corresponding author Shriharsh Tendulkar of McGill University said in an email. "Instead it uses digital signal processing to "point" the telescope and reconstruct where the radio waves are coming from", according to Kiyoshi Masui, an assistant professor at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

From our limited understanding, we know that FRBs are extremely short and high-powered bursts of radio energy that were first observed in 2007.

"An FRB emitted from a merger of two neutron stars, or a neutron star and a black hole, for example, can not repeat". Only one other repeating FRB has ever been found. "And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles - where they're from and what causes them". It was originally created to delve into the mystery surrounding dark matter by mapping the distribution of interstellar hydrogen, but it also turns out to be well-suited to take on the mystery surrounding fast radio bursts. The unexpectedly low 400 MHz frequency suggests FRBs might be detected at even lower frequencies, but another instrument would have to be used for that, as this is as low as CHIME can go.

The low frequency of this new detection could mean that the source of the bursts differ.

As for what FRBs are and where they come from, little is known.

Radio signals have been detected from deep in outer space. "We would also like to study the properties of whole populations of FRBs and try to see if there are different sources that give rise to repeaters and non-repeaters". While that seems like a mundane discovery, knowing the frequency range that these things appear at could ultimately tell us something about the physical processes that produce them.

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