HUNDREDS of mysterious fast radio bursts have been recorded by a telescope in its first year of operation, astronomers said Wednesday.
The equipment, based in British Columbia, Canada, has picked up nearly four times the amount of the signals that had been previously recorded.
Experts say the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope has already seen 535 between 2018 and 2019.Credit: PA
Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are a mysterious space phenomenon. The high-intensity emissions usually last only for a fraction of a second and their origins are unknown.
There had been just 140 bursts caught by scientists since the first was detected in 2007.
Now experts say the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope has already seen 535 between 2018 and 2019.
Most were found to have come from distant galaxies and were seen in all parts of the sky.
Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are a mysterious space phenomenon. The high-intensity emissions usually last only for a fraction of a second and their origins are unknownCredit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
CHIME member Kaitlyn Shin, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Physics, told MIT News: “Before CHIME, there were less than 100 total discovered FRBs; now, after one year of observation, we’ve discovered hundreds more.
“With all these sources, we can really start getting a picture of what FRBs look like as a whole, what astrophysics might be driving these events, and how they can be used to study the universe going forward.”
Observations show there are two types of FRBS, one-offs and repeaters.
The new data suggests there might be 9,000 visible FRBs everyday, The New Scientist reports.
She added: “Each FRB gives us some information of how far they’ve propagated and how much gas they’ve propagated through.
“With large numbers of FRBs, we can hopefully figure out how gas and matter are distributed on very large scales in the universe.
“So, alongside the mystery of what FRBs are themselves, there’s also the exciting potential for FRBs as powerful cosmological probes in the future.”
What are FRBs, and why are they important?
Here’s what you need to know…
- FRBs, or fast radio bursts, are a mysterious space phenomenon
- They’re very quick radio bursts that last just a few milliseconds (or thousandths of seconds)
- They’re detected as huge spikes of energy that change in strength over time
- The first one was discovered back in 2007, found by looking back through space survey data
- Lots of FRBs have been found since then
- There’s also one FRB source that is sending out repeated bursts – and no one is quite sure why
- In fact, scientists have struggled to explain exactly what causes any FRB in the first place
- Theories include rapidly rotating neutron stars, black holes, and even alien life
- FRBs are important simply because they’re so baffling to experts
- Unlocking the secrets of what causes them will give us a much better understanding of what goes on beyond our galaxy
- And if it does turn out that some other life-form is causing these FRBs, it would be a world-changing discovery
Scientists, including researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will present their findings at at the American Astronomical Society Meeting this week.
Only a handful have repeated, and fewer still in a predictable pattern.
This makes them notoriously difficult to study, meaning their origins have eluded scientists for over a decade.
It’s thought they come from huge explosions happening in deep space that fade away in less than a second.
The CHIME telescope is stationary and receives signals as the Earth rotates.
The new data suggests there might be 9,000 visible FRBs everydayCredit: CHIME/Andre Recnik
Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics at MIT, said: “Digital signal processing is what makes CHIME able to reconstruct and ‘look’ in thousands of directions simultaneously.
“That’s what helps us detect FRBs a thousand times more often than a traditional telescope.
“FRBs are really hard to see, but they’re not uncommon. If your eyes could see radio flashes the way you can see camera flashes, you would see them all the time if you just looked up.”
Magnetars are a type of neutron star with a hugely powerful magnetic field – only a handful of them are thought to be present in the Milky Way.
Physicists have previously speculated that magnetars might produce FRBs but there was no evidence to prove that was the case.
It means the signals don’t come from alien civilisations, a theory touted by some UFO hunters but widely dismissed by the scientific community.