Using China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST, researchers detected 1,652 bursts over the course of 47 days between August 29 and October 29, 2019. This is the largest set of fast radio burst events ever.
Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are millisecond-long emissions of radio waves into space, and astronomers have been able to trace some radio bursts back to their home galaxies. Scientists have not yet ascertained the actual cause of the glow. But small explosions can produce a year’s worth of our Sun’s total energy output.
Different radio bursts occur once and do not repeat. But repeated fast radio bursts sometimes emit short, energetic radio waves. FRB 121102 is known as a repeat rapid radio burst since 2016.
During testing of the FAST telescope, as it was being turned on, researchers observed that FRB 121102 was frequently flaring with varying cadence and sending out radio signals. A total of 122 bursts were recorded during peak hours, making it the highest rate for any rapid radio burst. There were 1,652 individual eruptions in a total of 59.5 hours spread over 47 days.
“This was the first time that an FRB source had been studied in such detail,” said study co-author Bing Zhang, an astrophysicist and distinguished professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in a statement. “The large burst set helped our team look like never before on the specific energy and energy distribution of the FRB, shedding new light on the engines that power these mysterious phenomena.”
Study co-author Wang Pei, an assistant professor at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement that the energy of the signals “severely constrains the possibility that FRB 121102 comes from an isolated compact object.”
While some support the idea that aliens may be the source of these explosions, scientists are leaning toward black holes or hyper-magnetized neutron stars called magnetars.
Magnetars are dense stars, about the size of a city like Chicago or Atlanta, that have the strongest magnetic fields found in the universe. Scientists believe that the explosion may have resulted from the magnetic field of magnetars.
Previous observations have shown that usually when they repeat, it is sporadic or in a group.
With this new impressive set of activity of FRB 121102, researchers can better understand the energy associated with these flashes. This could help scientists learn more about the possible source of the fast radio bursts.
The rapid radio bursts were only discovered in 2007, after it was discovered that some of them may repeat in 2016. Now, researchers know they may have patterns as well.
“As the world’s largest antenna, FAST’s sensitivity proves well suited to reveal the complexities of cosmic travellers, including FRBs,” lead study author Li Di, professor at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. “
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