Scientists in Canada have detected eight mysterious radio pulses coming from the depths of space.
Known as ‘fast radio bursts (FRBs)’, these powerful flashes have intrigued astronomers for years. It’s believed this latest detection, discovered using the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope, could help unravel the mystery.
As well as increasing the data set available for astronomers to analyse, the specific type of these latest FRBs will prove significant for research.
— JUAN MARIA HERNANDEZ (@JUANMARIAHDEZ) January 14, 2019
FRBs are highly energetic blasts which flare for a matter of milliseconds, seeming to burst all across the sky as well as from outside the galaxy. The first FRB was identified in 2007, with their cause remaining unknown.
Speculations surrounding their mysterious origins range from colliding stars to artificially created messages created by intelligent species.
According to Nature, these latest signals repeat, meaning they can be examined for longer periods of time.
CHIME stands for the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment. It's a new radio telescope just built in Canada and it looks like this. You can read more about CHIME here: https://t.co/J4nhhTSwSk (2/10) pic.twitter.com/Vru8CuX6PS
— Dr. Emily Petroff (@ebpetroff) August 1, 2018
Finding out which galaxy these flashes come from is crucial to unlocking their secrets.This is a tricky task when it comes to singular flash FRBs, with their origins proving difficult to trace.
Prior to this month’s discoveries, just two out of the recorded 75 FRBs were found to be repeaters. At the beginning of 2019, FRB 121102 was spotted flashing repeatedly. In January, a second repeating FRB (FRB 180814) was discovered.
Last month, a separate telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, also uncovered a repeating FRB. However, the research team have yet to publish their results. These additional eight discoveries bring the total number of repeating FRBs to 11, a significant increase.
— Educating Space (@EducatingSpace) July 9, 2019
Drawing from this substantially broader data set, scientists can test out new and exciting theories. As reported by Science Alert, Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Vikram Ravi last month hypothesised all FRBs repeat, with some being more active than others, in a similar manner to ‘volcanoes’.
This recent spike also means scientists can now compare and contrast FRBs, while looking at differences and similarities between repeating FRBs.
Ziggy Pleunis, from McGill University, told ScienceAlert about what can be learned from analysing and comparing repeating FRBs:
There is definitely a difference between the sources, with some being more prolific than others.
We already knew from FRB 121102 that the bursts can be very clustered: sometimes the source doesn’t burst for hours and hours and then suddenly you get multiple bursts in a short amount of time. We have observed the same thing for FRB 180916.J0158+65, for which we report ten bursts in this paper.
According to Nature, University of Toronto astronomer, and CHIME researcher, Bryan Gaensler has made the following remarks about his experiences working on the CHIME project:
In 25 years of astronomy research, this is unquestionably the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on.
CHIME researchers started their search for FRBs in 2018, and have so far discovered hundreds of one-off FRBs.
The team is comprised of 50 Canadian scientists from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC)
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.