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Mysterious Deep-Space Repeating Radio Bursts Detected For The First Time

Repeating Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) have been detected for the first time ever by astronomersTheir findings are published in the journal Nature.

An aerial view of Arecibo where the FRB was observed. H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF

The Arecibo telescope from where the FRBs were observed. Photo credits: H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF.

Ever since scientists first came across them around 10 years ago, FRBs have been found as one-off events. Until now. The repeating short radio bursts (lasting for only a few thousandths of a second) that have recently been detected are said to come from a mysterious and extremely powerful source situated beyond the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, able to generate multiple bursts within one minute.

Prior to this discovery, the previous findings led to theories about the origin of FRBs to be cataclysmic events that destroy their source, such as a star explosion resulting in a supernova, or a neutron star producing a black hole. Now, the new discovery has made room for other possible origins.

The findings are the result of observations made with the world’s greatest radio telescope, the Puerto-Rico-based Arecibo radio telescope. Last year, Paul Scholz, a student from McGill University, and his team looked into a region that was previously associated with an FRB detected in 2012 when they  came across the repeat signals; they had found a total of 10 new bursts.

These bursts might have come from an exotic object like a rotating neuron star with tremendous power such that it could emit extremely bright pulses. The bursts are different from others on account of their repeating, their brightness, and spectra, says the Laura Spitler, the first author of the paper. The team thus believes that the findings might constitute the first detection of a sub-category of FRBs.

The origin neutron star would be a very young extragalactic one. Scholz and his team now wish to spot the galaxy the FRBs are coming from.

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