Astronomers Discover the Origin Behind Bursts of Fast Radio Pulses in Our Galaxy

Close-up of a what a what FRB may like originating in our galaxy.
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Multiple researchers conclude that dead magnetic stars are likely behind the rare, intense bursts of radio waves that began in 2007, according to Inside Science.

Scientists have determined that bursts of radio waves in space, a phenomena that had been baffling experts for years, may be cores of dead stars. The blasts have fueled all sorts of speculation about their origins, from exploding or colliding stars to alien civilizations.

Since 2007, astronomers have spotted a handful of extremely intense and brief blasts of radio waves but were unable to pin down exactly what was creating them. They were struggling to explain why some FRBs aren't one-off events like supernova explosions but seem to repeat themselves instead, cited Inside Science.

Researchers in the U.S., Canada and China independently used different telescopes to study an FRB from April that originated 30,000 light-years away and lasted just a millisecond. All three teams came up with the same conclusion: It probably originated from a magnetar in our own galaxy, reported ABC News 

Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature earlier this month that magnetars are highly magnetized young neuron stars that occasionally produce enormous bursts and flares of X-rays and y-rays. Of the approximately 30 magnetars currently known in our Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds, five have exhibited transient radio pulsations. FRBs are millisecond-long bursts of radio waves arriving from cosmological distances, some of which have been seen to repeat. 

Christopher Bochenek, a Caltech astronomer and lead author of the U.S.-based research, explained that a magnetar is the rotating core of a massive dead star with a powerful magnetic field. To put it simply, magnetars are so dense that a teaspoon of one would weigh as much as 1,000 pyramids of Giza, he said. 

"This discovery makes it plausible that most fast radio bursts come from magnetars," Bochenek told ABC. The radio burst they examined was thousands of times stronger than anything else in the Milky Way, he said.

Using a network of small radio antennas spread out in California and Utah known as STARE2, Bochenek and his team scoped out the FRB to help identify bursts' locations and distinguish them from radio signals produced by people on Earth. 

Canadian astronomers using the massive CHIME telescope in British Columbia similarly attributed the FRB to a magnetar, and a Chinese collaboration had consistent findings with its own radio telescope, according to Inside Science.

According to the research, magnetars could provide the answer, since they spin slowly and flare periodically, like a lighthouse beacon. They're also abundant enough both inside and outside our galaxy to be the sources of other bursts scientists have seen, reported the publication.