Cosmic Source Found for Mysterious 'Fast Radio Burst'

The team studied the repetition and found that FRB 121102 created nine bursts over a six month period in 2016.

Burke-Spolaor added that it also possible there are different flavors of FRBs, some that repeat and some that don't.

That was how they worked out that it was three billion light years away. Together they have localized FRB121102's exact position within its host galaxy.

The team was not only able to pinpoint it to the distant dwarf galaxy, Jason Hessels from ASTRON/University of Amsterdam said they were able to determine the bursts didn't come from the center of the galaxy, but the signals came from slightly off-center in the galaxy.

Neutron stars are incredibly small and dense objects with a mass around twice that of the sun. One is that they are caused by black holes consuming gases, another is that they occur in the wake of stars exploding, but no one knows for sure. The discovery may help researchers understand one of the biggest mysteries in astronomy.

There have been 18 Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) detected since 2007, and their original has until now puzzled scientists.

Scientists estimate any where from five to 10,000 FRBs flash across the sky every day, so consider it odd that their first identified source is a puny, barely there galaxy.

Astronomers discovered 234 mysterious signals from stars in October, any one of which could be different alien species trying to talk to us.

Observations from the European VLBI network - an array of telescopes spread all over the globe - offered an even more precise snapshot of the FRBs' origin point, which seems to coincide with another, more persistent source of radio waves. But first astronomers have to figure out what exactly they are. FRB 121102 has its nesting site in the Auriga constellation.

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What produced the FRB remains unknown.

The researchers offer the hypothesis that FRB 121102 is caused by the leftovers from a supernova, being energised by a young and rapidly spinning neutron star - but a lot more observation will be needed to test that idea.

"They're probably the same thing and we haven't been lucky enough to observe the other ones repeating", he says. Unlike most other FRBs, this event discovered 2012 has recurred multiple times.

The latest work, published on 4 January in Nature, is the sharpest look yet at the home of a fast radio burst known as FRB 121102.

Deep imaging of that region by the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii turned up an optically faint dwarf galaxy that the VLA subsequently discovered also continuously emits low-level radio waves, typical of a galaxy with an active nucleus perhaps indicative of a central supermassive black hole.

"These radio flashes must have enormous amounts of energy to be visible from over 3 billion light-years away", said lead author Shami Chatterjee, Cornell senior research associate in astronomy.

"Now we know that at least one of these FRBs originated within a dwarf galaxy located some three billion light-years beyond our Milky Way galaxy", said McGill University postdoctoral researcher Shriharsh Tendulkar.

FRB 121102, the fast radio burst we located, originated from an event that occurred 3 billion years ago-just as the first life to use photosynthesis formed on our planet-in a dwarf galaxy that sits nearly 700 million times farther away from us than the closest star system, Alpha Centauri.

He said the discovery was a game changer because for the first time "we have no ambiguity in this host galaxy".

  • Toni Ryan