Sunday, 24 March, 2019

Astronomers Detect Mysterious Radio Signals From Deep Space

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Elijah Vega | 11 January, 2019, 19:30

Astronomers have recorded more than dozen new radio waves coming from far outside the Milky Way galaxy. "Scattering" was detected in the fast radio bursts, which is a phenomenon that helps determine more about the environment surrounding the origin. The discovery of a repeater was a huge deal because it meant that the source of this particular FRB, and possibly others, wasn't the result of a cataclysmic explosion, but rather something that persists through time.

The CHIME telescope found, as phrased by Nature.com, "the second known FRB that repeats, meaning that the radio flashes re-appear at the same point in the sky".

Known by its acronym CHIME, the world's most powerful radio telescope, spread across an area as big as a football pitch, is poised to detect many more of the enigmatic pulses now that it is fully operational. The radio bursts were observed by CHIME at frequencies between 400 megahertz (MHz) and 800 MHz.

Over time, Stairs says researchers will hopefully be able to develop a "clearer picture" that could lead to figuring out what exactly is producing these radio waves.

"CHIME is looking at the whole northern sky every day so there's plenty of possibilities to find more of these things", she said. "There are some models where intrinsically the source can't produce anything below a certain frequency".

To process that, the team had to work out "how to scale the computations that are needed to do radio astronomy up to unprecedented volume".

FRBs are short, bright flashes of radio waves, which appear to be coming from nearly halfway across the universe. The scattering details suggest there is something unique about structural characteristics of FRB sources.

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That could mean they're coming from "some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant, or near the central black hole in a galaxy", said Cherry Ng, an astronomer at the University of Toronto who also worked on the project, in a press release.

Theories range from highly magnetized neutron stars blasted by gas streams from a nearby supermassive black hole, to signatures of technology developed by an advanced civilisation. "When the first repeater was found, we didn't know if that was a unique object in the universe or if there was a class of these things, or if maybe all of the fast radio bursts actually were repeated, but numerous bursts were too faint for our telescopes to pick up".

"Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there", said Ingrid Stairs, an astrophysicist from the University of British Columbia. "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.

As for the new repeater, it's called FRB 180814.J0422+73.

He added: "That tells us something about the environments and the sources. We have not solved the problem, but it's several more pieces in the puzzle".

Tom Landecker, CHIME team member from the National Research Council of Canada.

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