Science & Technology

The mysterious fast radio bursts just got more mysterious

Research by Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment and Fast Radio Burst Project finds repeated pattern to FRBs

Published: Thursday 13 February 2020

Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) are among the universe’s greatest mysterious energies. These superfast radio pulses last no longer than a few milliseconds. They may have existed for billions of years but were discovered only in 2007.  

A few of them have been recorded since then. But none were known to follow any pattern until now. But research by Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) and Fast Radio Burst Project has found a repeated pattern to FRBs.

They found that these bursts occurred at 16.35-day intervals between September 16, 2018 and October 30, 2019. The bursts would follow a pattern for four days, then fall silent for about 12 days.

Scientists are unsure what the pattern means. They have managed to pinpoint the origin of the bursts to a star-forming area of a spiral galaxy 500 million light years away. The new burst is called FRB 180916.J0158+65. 

 So far, 28 such awake-and-sleep cycles have been detected. Scientists believe that there may be multiple sources for FRBs. They may be produced from events like star collisions, neutron stars and black holes. Some scientists also believe that these are the product of gamma ray bursts.

The telescope used to detect these signals is not a regular dish-based radio telescope, which can be turned to point at a particular part of the sky. Instead, the telescope does not move. It is made up of four half-cylinders and each of these hold 256-polarised receivers.   

CHIME is a radio telescope, but it’s an unusual one. Rather than a dish which can be aimed at targets, CHIME is stationary, and has no moving parts and instead it monitors the sky along with the earth’s movement. It consists of four half-cylinders, and each half-cylinder holds 256 dual-polarised receivers. It can receive 2,048 signals for processing.

In 2007, astrophysicist Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic discovered the first burst and was hence called the Lorimer Burst. Many more have been detected since then. But scientists still do not know enough about them. But the new findings do not adhere to what they have known.

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