Science

Fast radio burst (FRB): Mysterious repeating radio signal in deep space discovered

Fast radio burst (FRB): Mysterious repeating radio signal in deep space discovered

The signal is a fast radio burst (FRB), one of only 60 of such mysterious blips ever recorded in the past 13 years, and its repetition sheds some light on the tantalizingly mysterious origins of these millisecond-long, intense bursts.

A fast radio burst lasts only a few milliseconds; due to both the very brief appearance and the inability to predict where they will happen, it has proven very hard for astronomers to study the FRBs.

Some, including Prof Avi Loeb, from the Harvard-Smithsonian centre for astrophysics, have posited theories that they could even be evidence of incredibly advanced alien technology, the Guardian reported. Seeing a signal at all indicates something big, like a black hole collision, could be the cause.

In the latest one, there were a total of 13 bursts detecting in summer 2018, said the university's news release, saying the telescope wasn't running at full power.

Excitement: Scientists get excited when they see repeating signals because it allows astronomers to make multiple observations of where the signals come from, The Verge reports.

The only other known FRB repeater was discovered in 2012 using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. "Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there".

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

The 13 fast radio bursts (FRB) have previously been picked up once before by a different telescope. Scientists believe FRBs emanate from powerful astrophysical phenomena billions of light years away.

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

Radio signals have been detected from deep in outer space. The radio bursts were observed by CHIME at frequencies between 400 megahertz (MHz) and 800 MHz.

The last time they were detected was in 2007, when one was spotted by chance in radio astronomy data that had been collected in 2001.

"By understanding these propagation effects and being able to separate them from the intrinsic characteristics of FRBs, we hope to be able to use FRBs as probes of the electron distribution and magnetic field distribution in the Universe which would tell us about how the Universe built up structures, such as galaxies, galaxy clusters, and so on", explained Tendulkar.

That high rate of discovery suggests that FBRs, let alone repeating FBRs, may not be as unique as we think, said Perimeter Institute faculty member Kendrick Smith.

CHIME is a collaboration of over 50 scientists led by the University of British Columbia, McGill University, University of Toronto, and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

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