Astronomers have detected a strange, persistent radio signal from a distant galaxy that appears to be pulsing with a surprising regularity, similar to a heartbeat.
This signal is classified as a Fast Radio Burst, or FRB. A very strong burst of radio waves of unknown astrophysical origin that usually last a few milliseconds at most.
However, the new signal, called FRB 20191221A, lasts up to 3 seconds, almost 1000 times longer than the average time of radio bursts. The research team, including from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), found that bursts of radio waves repeat every 0.2 seconds in a clear periodic pattern, similar to a heartbeat.
FRB 20191221A is now the longest fast radio burst with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date. According to the article published in "Nature" magazine, the source of this signal is located in a distant galaxy several billion light years away from Earth.
Its exact source, however, remains a mystery. Astronomers suspect that the signal could have come from a radio pulsar or a magnetar, both types of neutron stars. Neutron stars are the very dense and fast remnant cores of giant stars.
Daniele Michilli, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT's Kawli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said: "There are not many things in the universe that emit signals." He added: "Examples that we know in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars that rotate and produce radiation similar to a lighthouse. We think this new signal could be a much more powerful magnetar or pulsar.
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In analyzing the pattern of radio bursts from FRB 20191221A, Michili and his colleagues found similarities with the emissions from radio pulsars and magnetars in our own galaxy. But the main difference between the new signal and the radio emission from the Milky Way's pulsars and magnetars is that FRB 20191221A appears to be more than a million times brighter.
The bright flashes may be from a distant radio pulsar, according to Micchili. Or they may have originated magnetically, which usually have less brightness when they rotate, but for unknown reasons, they threw out a wave of bright explosions in a rare interval of three seconds, which luckily the CHIME telescope managed to record.
CHIME stands for Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, an interferometric radio telescope consisting of four large parabolic reflectors located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, Canada.
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Cover Photo: Graphic design of CHIME observatory and
detected fast radio burst
Source: Weather Channel