"Unusual" Cosmic Signal May Finally Explain Radio Bursts


| LAST UPDATE 07/20/2022

By Stanley Wickens
mysterious radio burst discovery
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It seems like endless mysteries are just waiting to be revealed in the universe beyond our planet. Astronomers at MIT observing our galaxy have come across yet another discovery that's left them baffled.

A strange radio signal from a distant galaxy has been detected by researchers, and it may help us determine the source of fast radio bursts (FRB). Fast radio bursts are pretty common in space, and this discovery certainly isn't the first time astronomers have heard of them. What's left them bewildered, however, is that the duration of this FRB was 1,000 times longer than similar signals. And now scientists are trying to answer the puzzling question of why it lasted so long.

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Fast radio bursts are strong bursts of radio waves that come from distant galaxies - billions of light-years away - and normally last only a few milliseconds. But this recent signal - which scientists have called FRB 20191221A - lasted as long as three seconds. Not only that, but it's also shown researchers the clearest repeated pattern of bursts ever discovered. "It was unusual," researcher Daniele Michilli, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research said in a statement. "Not only was it very long, lasting about three seconds, but there were periodic peaks that were remarkably precise, emitting every fraction of a second — boom, boom, boom — like a heartbeat. This is the first time the signal itself is periodic."

The team who made the discovery included researchers working with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME)/ FRB Collaboration. Their goal was to attempt to detect more signals from this source, which they hope will help them pinpoint where FRBs come from. They also hope to be able to use FRB 20191221A as an "astrophysical clock" since it has a highly reliable periodicity. Since this FRB is moving away, scientists expect its frequency to change and hope this shift will help them measure the expansion of the universe. So, although FRBs have long been a mystery for scientists studying our universe, we're hoping this new discovery may be able to answer some of the major questions we're always asking about our universe. Be sure to stay tuned to find out more!