Mysterious Radio Waves Repeatedly Coming From Same Faraway Source

In a pioneering discovery, astronomers have detected 10 repeating bursts of radio waves coming from a distant source that may constitute a new sub-class of fast radio bursts (FRBs).

Only 17 FRBs have ever been recorded, so you can imagine the excitement of discovering 10 at one time, seemingly coming from the same source. Fast radio bursts are flashes of energy from space (lasting milliseconds) that show up as radio waves to telescopes on Earth. They are extremely rare and scientists still do not know what causes them. [Mysterious Radio Bursts Better Test of Einstein’s General Relativity]


Artists impression of a spinning neutron star. Image credit: NASA

“The repeat signals were surprising and very exciting. I knew immediately that the discovery would be extremely important in the study of FRBs,” said McGill University astronomer Paul Scholz.

According to scientists, the repeating FRBs were detected in 2015 using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The observations challenge the assumption that FRBs are created by a single cataclysmic event, like a supernova or a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. Subsequently, due to the repeating flashes, scientists think the most likely source is a rapidly spinning, very young neutron star.

“The finding suggests that these bursts must have come from a very exotic object, such as a rotating neutron star having unprecedented power that enables the emission of extremely bright pulses,” astronomers wrote in the paper.

“It is also possible that the finding represents the first discovery of a sub-class of the cosmic fast-radio-burst population.”

“Not only did these bursts repeat, but their brightness and spectra also differ from those of other FRBs,” said Dr. Laura Spitler of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, who was lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

So does this study confirm that FRBs are not caused by a single one-off cataclysmic event? Not so fast scientists say.

It may just be that “there are at least two kinds of FRB sources” out there, said co-author Prof. Victoria Kaspi, also at McGill University.

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2 replies »

  1. I have a feeling that the religious among our community may see an opportunity to invoke the “work of god” angle, but what if they’re half right? What if these are the signals SETI has been looking for? Have they searched the data for any patterns at all?


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