Astronomers have spotted a brief but powerful burst of radio signals coming from within the Milky Way. First radio bursts, or FRBs, are incredibly short-lived but intense blasts from distant sources in space that have not been explained so far.
Powerful Radio Burst
A team of scientists in Canada picked up earlier this year an odd powerful radio burst from a close-by magnetar – a neutron star with an incredibly powerful magnetic field.
The explosion was spotted on April 28th by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) Fast Radio Burst Collaboration and presented on November 4th in the journal Nature.
This is the closest radio burst to Earth astronomers have ever spotted, but it may also have solved a 13-year-old enigma of where FRBs come from. In their paper, the team described a radio burst that was about 3,000 times more powerful than any magnetar measured until now. The information supports a theory that says some FRBs come from magnetars.
Pragya Chawla, a Ph.D. student at McGill University and study co-author, said: “We calculated that such an intense burst coming from another galaxy would be indistinguishable from some fast radio bursts, so this really gives weight to the theory suggesting that magnetars could be behind at least some FRBs.”
The first FRBs ever was found by accident in 2007 when two researchers checked archival data from a pulsar survey. The oddity has been called the Lorimer Burst after West Virginia University astronomer Duncan Lorimer, who spotted it with his student David Narkevic.
Still, the source of the burst has remained an enigma, and following FRB detections have not provided definite answers. FRBs were initially presumed to be one-time astronomical events triggered by some unknown high-energy cosmic process.
However, astronomers know some of these bursts repeat, such as FRB 180916, which seems to reappear about every 16 days. Many of these FRBs are millions or billions of times more heated than our Sun and have been traced to origins outside of our Milky Way.