Astronomers just found the fastest known radio pulses from outside our galaxy hiding in 30 minutes' worth of radio telescope data. The findings, published Oct. 19 in the journal Nature Astronomy, could help researchers uncover where these mysterious blips come from.
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are extremely short, high-energy pulses of electromagnetic radiation that usually originate outside our galaxy. Most last for between one-thousandth of a second and three seconds, during which they emit as much energy as the sun throws out in a day.
The first FRB was detected in 2007, and since then, hundreds more have been discovered. Astronomers aren't entirely sure what causes FRBs. There's evidence that at least some of the radio pulses come from magnetars, a type of dense neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field. Other researchers have proposed that FRBs might be the result of merging neutron stars, energetic supernovas, gamma-ray bursts or potentially even technosignatures from alien civilizations.
But astronomers had long suspected that there might be even shorter, quicker FRBs that were going undetected. "During our group meetings, we often talked about it," Mark Snelders, an astronomer at the University of Amsterdam and first author of the study, said in a statement. "By coincidence, I found out that there was a public dataset that we could use for this."
By analyzing 30 minutes of radio data from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, Snelders and his co-authors discovered eight ultrafast FRBs originating from a source 3 billion light-years away. Each energetic pulse lasted just 10 millionths of a second or less — the fastest bursts ever detected by far.
Now that scientists have proof that these ultrafast FRBs exist, they can search for more. Unfortunately, these blips may prove difficult to find with this method. To spot the eight pulses, the researchers had to break down each second of the telescope's radio-based images into half a million frames. Many other radio telescopes' data files simply aren't detailed enough to slice into such tiny pieces.
Still, knowing where and how to find ultrafast FRBs is a big step toward unraveling the puzzle of how they came to be.
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Joanna Thompson is a science journalist and runner based in New York. She holds a B.S. in Zoology and a B.A. in Creative Writing from North Carolina State University, as well as a Master's in Science Journalism from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. Find more of her work in Scientific American, The Daily Beast, Atlas Obscura or Audubon Magazine.
Astronomers aren't entirely sure what causes FRBs. There's evidence that at least some of the radio pulses come from magnetars, a type of dense neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field.Here is a paper with evidence supporting a related source for repeater FRBs:
We analyse nearly 7,000 bursts reported in the literature for the three most active sources of FRB 20121102A, 20201124A, and 20220912A, and find the following characteristics that are universal in the three sources. A clear power-law signal of the correlation function is seen, extending to the typical burst duration (∼ 10 msec) towards shorter time intervals (Δt). The correlation function indicates that every single burst has about a 10–60 per cent chance of producing an aftershock at a rate decaying by a power law as ∝ (Δt)−p with p = 1.5–2.5, like the Omori–Utsu law of earthquakes. The correlated aftershock rate is stable regardless of source activity changes, and there is no correlation between emitted energy and Δt. We demonstrate that all these properties are quantitatively common to earthquakes, but different from solar flares in many aspects, by applying the same analysis method for the data on these phenomena. These results suggest that repeater FRBs are a phenomenon in which energy stored in rigid neutron star crusts is released by seismic activity.https://academic.oup.com/mnras/article/526/2/2795/7295484?login=false