A series of bursts coming from a single source half a billion light-years from Earth
What are fast radio bursts?
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are super intense and super stranger, millisecond-long bursts of radio waves produced by unidentified sources in the distant cosmos. FRBs have likely happened for billions of years and are still mysterious phenomena to astronomers, despite being discovered in 2007 by American astronomer Duncan Lorimer, also known as ‘Lorimer Bursts’. Since then the evidence of a few dozen similar events has been observed in data collected by radio telescopes around the world, which adds to the question of what could these radio bursts to emit the way that they do.
Despite collected evidence point to a variety of potential causes, FRBs are still one of the universe’s deep mysteries. Only a handful of emissions have been traced to specific areas of the sky, indicating the cause could be coming from powerful objects like black holes and neutron stars as likely culprits. The flash of radio waves is incredibly bright, comparable to the power released by hundreds of millions of suns in just a few milliseconds. Researchers hope that one day by tracing the origin of these mysterious bursts, they can determine what caused them.
These mischievous events were once considered to be largely transient – they seemed to happen once, without obvious signs of a repeat emission. In fact, it was only in 2016 that astronomers found any evidence of multiple bursts from the same source.
The mysterious case of repetitive radio signals every 16 days
For the first time, researchers have noticed a pattern in a series of radio bursts coming from a massive spiral galaxy around 500 million light-years away. The FRB has been traced to a galaxy called SDSS J015800.28+654253.0. Last year, the FRB collaboration detected the sources of eight new repeating fast radio bursts.
From September 16, 2018, to October 30, 2019, researchers of the Fast Radio Burst Project collaboration detected a pattern in bursts occurring every 16.35 days. The FRB has a predictable pattern of one or two each hour, over the course of four days followed by another 12 days of silence. By understanding the fast radio bursts, astronomers can also learn more about the universe.