Astronomers detect unusual transient radio pulses repeating in 16-day cycle

Radio telescope

Radio telescope

While the detection of Fast Radio Burts (FRB) are rare, they have occurred in the past but this will be the first instance that scientists have discovered these signals in steady periodic bursts.

Now, an worldwide team of astronomers based at the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project (CHIME/FRB) in British Columbia has discovered that one mystery radio source, coming from a galaxy some 500 million light-years from our solar system, is sending out fast radio bursts like clockwork in an uncannily regular rhythm.

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It then appears to go silent for 12 days before picking back up again and resuming its 16-day cycle. In the beginning, detection was slim and infrequent, but later more were found with help from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst (CHIME/FRB) Project.

Astronomers all over the world have become increasingly passionate about fast radio bursts (FRBs), an intriguing space mystery that are beyond unpredictable. "This object's location is radically different from that of not only the previously located repeating FRB, but also all previously studied FRBs", Kenzie Nimmo, a Ph.D. student at the University of Amsterdam and lead author of the paper, said. In the study, scientists have suggested that many more FRBs could be repeating, but may have gone undetected.

The team used the CHIME array in British Columbia (see top) to scan for repeating FRBs between September 2018 and October 2019.

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"We conclude that this is the first detected periodicity of any kind in an FRB source".

The mere presence of periodicity in this FRB might give clues into what object could be producing it, according to the paper.

The new FRB was tracked down to SDSS J015800.28+264253.0, a star-forming galaxy about 500 million light years from Earth.

It's unknown how common FRBs actually are and why some of them repeat and others do not; most of their origins are also mysterious in nature. However, this distance is the closest distance detected in terms of FRB signals.

Those investigating also do not know if the repeating signal is an anomaly or the norm. A separate study posits that the FRB is produced by a neutron star in a binary system with a much more massive star.

Another published report deduced the FRB rhythm isn't tempered by another object, and is sending out the pulses directly from the source. Scientists have batted around hypotheses ranging from cosmic collisions to stellar flares to highly magnetized neutron stars to intelligent extraterrestrials (we'll come to that). But since magnetars tend to rotate every few seconds, a 16-day cycle does not match the expected profile of a magnetar-based FRB.

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