Astronomers from Canada and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have detected an intriguing and unusually continuous radio signal from a galaxy several billion light years from Earth.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the signal is what’s known as a fast radio burst, or FRB. These extremely powerful bursts of radio waves usually last for a few milliseconds. What sets this new signal apart is that it lasts for up to three seconds. To deepen the puzzle even more, the FRB is cut with periods of radio waves that repeat every 0.2 seconds in a clear pattern.
The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is the longest-running FRB ever discovered. It also has the clearest periodic pattern ever in the FRB, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
While this signal can be identified for a specific distant galaxy, its exact source is unknown. Right now, evidence suggests it’s coming from a radio pulsar or magnetar, which are two types of neutron stars, according to the university. They form when stars with a mass greater than the Sun explode in a supernova. Its outer layers could explode, leaving an incredibly dense little core that continued to crumble. The force of gravity is so strong that protons and electrons combine to form neutrons, hence the name.
“There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals,” Danielle Micheli, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research said in a statement. “An example we know of in our galaxy are radio and magnetic pulsars, which rotate and produce a beacon-like emission. We think this new signal could be a magnetar or a pulsar on doping.”
The discovery of this FRB was reported in the journal temper nature this week. Calvin Leung, Juan Mina-Barra, Kaitlin Shen, and Kiyoshi Masui of MIT co-authored the paper with Michelle.
The signal was detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Density Mapping Experiment, or pumpkin. This radio telescope, located in British Columbia, constantly monitors the sky for radio waves emitted in the early periods of the universe. It is also sensitive to FRBs, and has detected hundreds of such signals since 2018.
While still working as a researcher at McGill University in December 2019, Mitchell was reading incoming CHIME data when he noticed something strange.
“It was extraordinary,” he said, according to MIT. “It wasn’t very long, lasted about three seconds, but there were periodic peaks that were remarkably accurate, emitting every millisecond—boom, boom, boom—like a heartbeat. This is the first time the signal itself has been periodic.”
Micheli told MIT that the intense flashes detected in this FRB may originate from a neutron star that isn’t usually very bright as it rotates, but for some reason set off a large series of explosions in a three-second period that CHIME was able to. he caught me.
“CHIME has now detected many FRBs with different characteristics,” said Micheli. “We have seen some live inside very turbulent clouds, while others appear to be in clean environments. From the characteristics of this new signal, we can say that around this source, there is a cloud of plasma that must be very turbulent.”
Astronomers now hope to pick up more periodic radio signals from this source, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If they did, the signals could be used as a way to measure the expansion rate of the universe.
Subscribe to newsletters
Stay up to date with the latest news from Boston.com
“Devoted student. Bacon advocate. Beer scholar. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot. Typical coffee enthusiast.”