One of the most daunting questions scientists have faced for at least a decade is what causes fast radio bursts (or FRB’s) that pulse throughout the universe?
Scientists have long known about these energetic pulses — called fast radio bursts — for roughly 13 years observing them coming from outside our galaxy. The distance makes it harder to trace them back to what’s causing them. Making it even more difficult is that these bursts of energy happen so fast, in a couple of milliseconds and then don’t happen again for awhile.
TMU has previously reported on various FRBs with the latest being one that repeats in a looping cycle every 157 days outside of our Milky Way Galaxy. FRB 121102’ exhibits repeated burst activity for a period of about 90 days, before going quiet for about 67 days. Then the whole 157-day cycle repeats again.
FRB’s are energetic flares of radiation that last just a few milliseconds, and most of them flare randomly only once, then they are never detected again. Further, FRBs are believed to generate a billion times more energy than any known object in our galaxy. In fact, this energy equals what would be produced by 500 million of our suns, according to NASA.
Earlier this year, in April, a rare but weaker radio burst came from inside our own Milky Way galaxy that was spotted by two different astronomers using two separate telescopes: one a California doctoral student’s set of handmade antennas, which included pans, the other a $20 million Canadian observatory.
Magnetars are incredibly dense neutron stars, with 1.5 times the mass of our sun jam packed into a space the size of a city. Magnetars have immense magnetic fields that pulse with energy, and sometimes flares of X-rays and radio waves burst come from them, according to McGill University astrophysicist Ziggy Pleunis, a co-author of the Canadian study.
The burst happened in less than a second containing about the same amount of energy that our sun produces in a month, and still that’s far weaker than the radio bursts detected coming from outside our galaxy, said Caltech radio astronomer Christopher Bochenek. Bochenak helped spot the burst with his handmade antennas, which the Associated Press reported costed him $15,000.
While astronomers believe they discovered what caused this FRB, they emphasize that magnetars may not be the only answer, especially since there are two types of fast radio bursts that repeat and those that occur only once. So the mystery continues…
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