There are countless mysteries in the universe, some of which may require the work of future generations to solve. Others we may find out in the not too distant future. For example, researchers are resetting fast radio bursts or FRBs. These abnormal energy pulses were discovered in 2007 and a new data set covering hundreds of FRBs is made available. This could be the advancement that helps us understand FRBs once and for all.
The first FRB was discovered on Earth in 2001, but no one knew about it until the data were analyzed in 2007. FRBs are so intense that they can cross entire galaxies, but only for a few milliseconds before the eruption ends. For a long time, astronomers believed that FRBs did not repeat themselves, making it difficult to capture one in action. There have been tantalizing tracks that many FRBs repeat, making the phenomenon easier to study. Thanks to the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), we have the data to confirm this.
Before CHIME, there were about 100 known fast radio bursts. The dataset from CHIME’s first year of operation (2018-2019) will be presented at the American Astronomical Society Meeting. It has an incredible 535 new FRBs and they fall into two different categories: disposable and repeaters.
The CHIME team identified 18 FRB repeating sources. These impulses were longer and more powerful than non-repeaters. It strongly suggests that repeated and non-repeated bursts originate from various astrophysical mechanisms. With further observations and analysis of the CHIME data, astronomers believe that it will be possible to nail down the origin of FRBs.
Interestingly, CHIME’s catalog of FRBs is evenly distributed across the sky. The team has calculated that FRBs occur at a rate of approx. 800 pr. Day from our perspective, but they are hard to see. While FRBs dazzle at their source, they are about 1,000 times weaker than a cell phone signal when they reach us.
With a little more research, we can finally nail down the origins of FRBs. The current leading suspect for at least some bursts is a type of neutron star known as a magnetar. These objects have magnetic fields of many orders of magnitude more powerful than those of Earth, and it is possibly the movement of magnetic materials inside the star. Time will tell if magnetars are the culprit.