A mysterious object billions of light-years from Earth is emitting strong bursts of energy in a heartbeat-like pattern.
A team of astronomers led by Massachusetts The Institute of Technology (MIT) has captured what is officially known as fast radio bursts (FRBs), which are intense radio waves that typically last a few milliseconds.
However, the newly discovered FRB persists for up to three seconds—about 1,000 times longer than the average.
The signal, labeled FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest running FRB with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date.
While the researchers aren’t sure of the source, they suspect the signal is coming from a radio pulsar or a magnetar, both types of neutron stars – extremely dense, rapidly spinning, collapsing cores of giant stars.
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The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope (pictured). This FRB persists for up to three seconds—about 1,000 times longer than the average.
The first FRB was discovered in 2007, prompting a search for the source and possibly unlocking the secrets of the space between galaxies by studying the signal path.
Daniele Michilli, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Research. Kavli at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement: “There are not many things in the Universe that emit strictly periodic signals.
“Examples we know in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce beacon-like beams.
“And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or a pulsar on steroids.”
The signal, labeled FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest running FRB with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date (file photo)
Fast radio bursts, described as “brief and mysterious beacons”, have been seen in various and distant parts of the universe, as well as in our own galaxy.
Their origin is unknown and their appearance is unpredictable.
The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope.
CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment), located in British Columbia, Canada, has four U-shaped cylinders 328 feet long, allowing it to detect signals when the universe was between six and 11 billion years old.
And this telescope has almost quadrupled the number of fast radio bursts detected to date.
It was found that the nature of the radio bursts FRB 20191221A is similar to the emissions of radio pulsars and magnetars in our galaxy.
Radio pulsars are neutron stars that emit beams of radio waves that pulsate as the star rotates, while magnetars produce similar radiation due to their extreme magnetic fields.
The main difference between the new signal and the radio emission from our own galactic pulsars and magnetars is that FRB 20191221A appears to be over a million times brighter.
Michilli said the bright flashes could have come from a distant radio pulsar or magnetar, which usually becomes less bright as it spins and, for some unknown reason, emits a series of bright flashes “in a rare three-second window, which CHIME was fortunately able to catch. ‘he continued.
“CHIME has found many FRBs with different properties,” Michilli said.
“We saw how some of them live inside very turbulent clouds, while others look like they are in a clean environment.
“Based on the properties of this new signal, we can say that there is a cloud of plasma around this source, which should be extremely turbulent.”
Astronomers hope to catch additional bursts of periodic FRB 20191221A, which will help narrow down the source of the signal and learn more about neutron stars.
“This discovery raises the question of what could have caused this extreme signal that we have never seen before, and how we can use this signal to study the universe,” Michilli said.
“Telescopes of the future promise to detect thousands of FRBs per month, at which point we may be able to detect many more of these periodic signals.”
WHAT IS A SOUND TELESCOPE?
An image provided by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment shows the CHIME radio telescope.
The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime) is a radio telescope in Canada.
£12.2 million ($16 million) in funding, CHIME is located in the mountains of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia at the NRC Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton.
It contains four U-shaped cylinders 100 meters (328 feet) long, allowing it to detect signals when the universe was 6 to 11 billion years old.
Experts compared its U-shaped cylinders made of metal mesh with half-pipes used by snowboarders and skateboarders.
CHIME is a stationary array with no moving parts. The telescope receives radio signals every day from half the sky as the Earth rotates.
While most radio astronomy is done by rotating a large dish to focus light from different parts of the sky, CHIME stares fixedly at the sky.
It focuses on incoming signals using a correlator, a powerful digital signal processor that can process huge amounts of data at about 7 terabits per second, equivalent to several percent of the world’s Internet traffic.
“Digital signal processing is what allows CHIME to reverse engineer and “look” in thousands of directions at the same time,” said Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics at MIT.
“This is what helps us detect FRBs a thousand times more often than a traditional telescope.”
Its unique design, combined with advanced computing power, will serve as a “time machine” that allows you to look deep into the history of the universe.
CHIME collects radio waves with a wavelength of 37 to 75 centimeters.
Most of these signals come from the Milky Way, but some began their journey billions of years ago.