Between September 2018 and October 2019, scientists of the CHIME/FRB Collaboration observed the first 28 cycles of a Fast Radio Burst coming from a mysterious object ultra-deep in space . The object has been estimated to be about 500 million light-years away, which is, wait for it, 2,939,312,686,591,800,000,000 miles away or more simply 2.93 x 1021 miles. Needless to say, this is impossibly far away. However, it has been declared the closest FRB to our planet ever detected.
Typically caused by mysterious astrophysical processes, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a non-steady radio pulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds. These signals have been reported to be extremely bright, with sounds similar to a cardinal-like down slurred whistle, initially ruled as changes in timing.
This new FRB is one out of the hundreds detected since 2007 and has been described as a repeater transmitting fast signals steadily for four days. After a 12-day window, it starts again. Conspiracy theories have surrounded these anomalies for over a decade now, and of course, a lot of people believe they are from aliens. And of course, they are not. At least, it’s highly unlikely.
However, scientists from the CHIME/FRB Collaboration discovered a steady repeating pattern from this particular source. The CHIME/FRB (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project) is a collaboration of scientists led by the University of British Columbia, detecting and analyzing FRB repeaters in space. So far, this group has detected 13 FRBs, with some as far as 1 billion light-years away.
Not enough evidence to conclude yet
This particular FRB repeater, named FRB 180916.J0158+65 was discovered at a CHIME station in British Columbia, Canada using a special radio telescope.
“We conclude that this is the first detected periodicity of any kind in an FRB source,” the study’s authors said. “The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object.”
While the true origin is unknown, a few theories have come up from different studies. The CHIME/FRB scientists have said the bursts could be coming from an orbiting black-hole-like object periodically emitting signals as it travels through space.
“One possible explanation is orbital motion, with either a stellar or compact-object companion. Given the source’s location10 in the outskirts of a massive spiral galaxy, a supermassive black hole companion seems unlikely, although lower-mass black holes are viable,” they wrote.
Another theory from a different study with the same data suggests that the bursts could be coming from an OB binary star system in the galaxy. A coalition of a massive star and a dense neuron star could be causing the single to come in the pattern they do, being released by the neuron star and hindered by gusts of wind from the larger star.
One certainty: Not aliens.
Hundreds of FRBs have been detected, but they’re only for about a thousandth of a second before disappearing, which makes them virtually impossible to study. The first repeating FRB ever traced, FRB 121102, was discovered in 2007 and later linked back to a small dwarf galaxy containing stars and metals . Another one, FRB 180916 was traced to the spiral arm of a Milky Way-esque galaxy. It was also within a star-forming region of the arm. The signals have also come from all over the universe at very different sources and have remained boggling mysteries for many years now.
However, for the first time, a pattern has been discovered in the repetition and there may be hope for better understanding in the future.
“The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object,” the researchers wrote in their study.
- Sophie Lewis. A mysterious deep space radio burst is sending signals to Earth every 16 days. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fast-radio-burst-frb-deep-space-sending-signals-earth-every-16-days/. Retrieved 13-02-2020
- Amiri et al. Periodic activity from a fast radio burst source. ARXIV. https://arxiv.org/pdf/2001.10275.pdf. Retrieved 13-02-2020
- Ashley Strickland. Mysterious radio signal from space is repeating every 16 days. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/11/world/repeating-fast-radio-burst-pattern-scn-trnd/index.html. Retrieved 13-02-2020
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