what do we know about the strange radio signal from a distant galaxy

A team of astronomers from MIT found it using the CHIME interferometric radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in Canada.

The CHIME radio telescope and an illustration of the signal / CHIME

A team of astronomers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has discovered a strange and persistent radio signal coming from a galaxy billions of light-years from Earth. This is the longest and most regular glimpse of radio waves ever detected and has been classified as a fast radio bust (FRB), an intense eruption of radio waves of unknown astrophysical origin, which usually lasts no more than a few milliseconds. However, this new signal lasts for up to three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than an average FRB. Within this window, the researchers detected eruptions of radio waves that are repeated every 0.2 seconds in a clear periodic pattern resembling a beating heart.

The exact origin of the signal – identified as FRB 20191221 to indicate that fast radio bust it was discovered on December 21, 2019 – it is still a mystery, although astronomers suspect that it came from a radio pulsar or a magnetar, two types of neutron stars, therefore collapsed and extremely dense with giant stars spinning rapidly. His discovery, described in detail in a study published in Naturewas made possible by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, an interferometric radio telescope consisting of four large parabolic reflectors located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in British Columbia, Canada.

Unusual radio signal from another galaxy

On December 21, 2019, CHIME discovered a signal about a potential FRB that immediately caught the attention of Italian researcher Daniele Michilli of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT and formerly Canada’s McGill University, which scanned in-depth data. ” It was unusual Michilli remembered. Not only was it very long, about three seconds long, but there were extraordinarily accurate periodic peaks that emitted every fraction of a second: boom, boom, boom, like a heartbeat. This is the first time that the signal itself is periodic“.

The vast majority of FRBs discovered to date are one time amount: Ultra-light eruptions of radio waves lasting a few milliseconds before disappearing. Recently, astronomers at MIT also discovered another periodic FRB, the first of its kind, which appeared to emit a regular pattern of radio waves. This signal consisted of a four-day window of random bursts, which then repeated every 16 days, indicating a periodic activity pattern, even though the actual radioburst signal was random rather than periodic.

The new signal, on the other hand, showed particularly sharp radio eruptions and appears to have similarities with emissions from radio pulsars and magnetars from our own galaxy, even though it looks more than a million times brighter than those from our neutron stars. ” According to the properties of this new signal, we can say that around this source there is a cloud of plasma, which must be extremely turbulentMichilli added, suggesting that it could be from a radio pulsar or a remote magnetar, which is usually less bright when rotating, but which for some unknown reason emitted a series of bright flashes in a rare three-second window, such as CHIME was able to capture. ” We believe that this new signal may have been emitted by a magnetar or pulsar on steroids

In future detections, the signal may help scientists improve their understanding of its source and neutron stars in general. ” Its detection raises the question of what could cause such an extreme signal that we have never seen before and how we can use it to study the universe. Michilli clarified -. Future telescopes promise to detect thousands of FRBs a month, and by that time we could find many more of these periodic signals.“.

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