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

Mindy Sparks
January 11, 2019

While this preliminary data doesn't provide a clear indication of what fast radio bursts are, CHIME provides reason for optimism that the "we need more data" mantra is likely to be met. CHIME is now fully commissioned, and it will be taking data full time and with the instrument's full field of view.

Collaboration have spotted 13 new fast radio bursts (FRB) - powerful radio flashes probably arriving from far outside the Milky Way, with mysterious origins that continue to be a matter of debate. Now, a new FRB is getting some serious attention for a very specific reason. "We would like to know what kinds of objects these are and how they are related to other explosions and objects that we know of (gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, neutron stars etc)", Tendulkar said.

Or, more accurately, it was the only one.

But, until this most recent work, only one repeating FRB, known as FRB 121102, had been observed.

Canadian scientists have discovered a series of radio signals, one of which is repetitive, being emitted from an unknown location billions of light years away.


The mystery stems from the fact it is not known what could produce such a short and sharp burst. Scientists believe FRBs emanate from powerful astrophysical phenomena billions of light years away. FRBs are among the few types of signal that interact with the diffuse fog of electrons that exists between galaxies. The discovery is significant because it's only the second time ever a repeating signal has been observed by scientists.

"FRBs were an unexpected mystery". If observers could find 13 such bursts this early into CHIME's lifespan, there's a real possibility that it will find others.

The "scattering" phenomenon was detected in the radio bursts, which can help answer questions about the atmosphere surrounding the origin. "In the next phase, we plan to capture the full high-resolution data stream from the brightest bursts, which will let us better understand their positions, characteristics and magnetic environments". "New racks of compute nodes were being installed and the number of nodes operating, and hence beams on sky, varied from day to day", its scientists say. "CHIME reconstructs the image of the overhead sky by processing the radio signals recorded by thousands of antennas with a large signal processing system", explains Perimeter Institute's Kendrick Smith. The new observations suggest FRBs are common at lower frequencies.

"This tells us more about the properties of repeaters as a population". "And that's why finding more FRBs is so exciting for us". Seeing a signal at all indicates something big, like a black hole collision, could be the cause.

Fast radio bursts have been speculated to be the result of everything from exploding stars to transmissions from aliens. The $16-million investment for CHIME was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the governments of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, with additional funding from the Dunlap Institute, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

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