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What's Beyond Us?

Marion Charatan

Posted on May 28, 2021 10:55

4 users

Fast radio bursts have been discovered closer to Earth than ever before. The latest blast was seen 11.7 million light-years from us--40 times nearer than any other radio burst ever seen. Astronomers want to know why.

Something unworldly is happening in our upper atmosphere and the activity has scientists scratching their heads. There are theories about why some mysterious radio bursts are being picked up from space. 

In 2007, astronomers identified brief and intermittent radio wave blasts that seemed to originate from a nearby globular cluster, a sphere-shaped collection of stars. Radio bursts have been around for a long time but scientists are perplexed; they did not think that radio wave blasts like this could be so close. In fact, astronomers deemed this highly unlikely.

The so-called "fast radio bursts," FRBs for short, had been identified billions of light-years away from us. But about 14 years ago, an FRB was seen in a globular cluster 11.7 million light-years away. Scientists likened this discovery to "finding a smartphone embedded in Stonehenge." An astronomer for the University of Toronto, Bryan Gaensler, said, “This is definitely not a place fast radio bursts are expected to live.” He co-authored a paper he posted on Twitter titled, “Just what is going on?”

A fast radio burst found in 2020 has been titled FRB 20200120E. It was viewed through the Canada Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment telescope. Until CHIME telescopes were used to hunt down FRBs, no more than 30 fast radio waves had been discovered. Now, more than 1000 have been identified in outer space.

As for the latest find, it is associated with the M81 galactic system and is 40 times closer to Earth than any other FRB. This radio wave burst is not as bright as cousins far away and emanates a series of blasts, rather than a single explosion.

Since astronomers have ascertained that FRB 20200120E is close to us, they are now looking for FRB's in nearby galaxies, like the Milky Way, particularly around its halo which is sparsely populated.

Some theories to explain where fast radio blasts come from include black holes that are evaporating,  flaring dead stars, or perhaps even alien technologies (though most scientists dismiss an alien connection as bunk). The length of the radio burst, which is a millisecond in duration, points to it being derived from collisions between extremely compact and dense objects.

Up to now, astronomers believed the bursts were powered by magnetars, which are relatively young and short-lived cosmic objects. But the latest find in a globular cluster so relatively close (if you can stretch your mind to accept that objects over 11 million light-years from here are thought of as near Earth) is inexplicable.

Gamma ray bursts also puzzled astronomers when they were discovered in the '60s in a military satellite, until scientists ascertained they come from colliding neuron stars and supernovae.

Why does it matter to learn the origin of the bright radio blasts? Because FRB's produce as much energy in a millisecond as the sun does in a year. And finding the origins of these new bright and fast radio waves can help us unleash the mysteries of our universe. 

Marion Charatan

Posted on May 28, 2021 10:55

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Source: Phys.org

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