Sci-tech

'There could be more out there': Mysterious radio bursts coming from space

'There could be more out there': Mysterious radio bursts coming from space

FRBs are short flashes of radio waves coming from far outside our Milky Way galaxy.

While it's not known what causes them, there are a number of theories out there.

Some of the signal-scattering patterns suggest that the sources of the bursts have to be in special types of locations - for example, in supernova remnants, star-forming regions or around black holes.

The radio telescope was still in its pre-commissioning phase and operating with only a small amount of its full capacity in the summer of 2018 when it detected this and 12 singular fast radio bursts.

Astronomers have detected dozens over the past decade - and have just announced they've found more of them, including a rare repeating signal.

Since their discovery more than a decade ago, 60-plus bursts, each named for its date of detection, have been observed by five telescopes worldwide.

Ingrid Stairs, a member of the CHIME team said, 'Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB.

What corner of the universe these powerful waves come from and the forces that produced them remain unknown.

Stairs said that with CHIME, "mapping the entire northern hemisphere every day, we're bound to find more repeaters over time".

CHIME is a fixed radio telescope that covers more area than a football field and passively scans the skies 24/7 as Earth rotates.

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The researchers said that studying the fast radio bursts is a hard task because they're rare and only occur once. The majority of scientists believe they are generated by powerful astrophysical phenomena like black holes.

Take a deep breath, because here come some breathtaking numbers from the CHIME arXiv paper: "The computational challenge of the CHIME/FRB search is huge: The input data rate is 1.5PB/day, and the dedispersion transform computes 10 SNR values per second (total for all beams)".

These 13 FRBs, which include the repeater, were detected on a much lower frequency than had been detected before. "The closest analogs we have in our own galaxies (pulsars) are more than a trillion times fainter", Tendulkar said about the repeating FRB.

"We have discovered a second repeater and its properties are very similar to the first repeater", said Shriharsh Tendulkar of McGill University, Canada.

Most previously detected FRBs have had frequencies of around 1,400 megahertz (MHz), but the new ones fell within a range below 800 MHz.

Additional bursts from the repeating FRB were detected in following weeks by the telescope, which is located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley.

When faced with an enigma like this, the standard scientific mantra applies: we need more data. "By detecting and characterising fast radio bursts at different frequencies, we can better understand which theories work and which do not". Experts speculate one of these could be the source of FRBs.

So, in less than a decade, radio telescopes have been designed and built to identify more of these events.

"But we should also avoid a knee-jerk reaction to such discoveries - it 'can't be aliens, therefore is isn't'".


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