Extremely short, but incredibly bright, the strange phenomenon of rapid radio bursts continues to baffle scientists. These flashes of radio energy are so bright that they can travel billions of light years and still be observed, and we still don’t know what is causing them.

Astronomers have recently discovered only the second-ever Fast Radio Burst, which is highly active and repetitive, while broadcasting radio broadcasts between bursts. Most FRBs last a few milliseconds at most and are repeated at irregular intervals.

The source of the eruptions, an object called FRB 190520, is located at the outer edge of a dwarf galaxy nearly 3 billion light-years from Earth. It was first observed with the five-hundred-meter spherical aperture radio telescope (FAST) in China, after which astronomers were able to determine its location using data from a very large array (VLA) and the Subaru telescope.

The artist’s concept of a neutron star with an ultra strong magnetic field called a magnetar emitting radio waves (red). Magnetars are a leading candidate for what generates fast radio bursts. Bill Saxton, NRAO / AUI / NSF

The first recurring FRB in history, called FRB 121102, was opened in 2016 and attracted a lot of attention. Other recurring FRBs have been found, but the recently discovered object and the first FRB are similar due to the radio emissions that continue to show between bursts.

“These characteristics make this one look a lot like the first FRB, whose position was determined – also by the VLA – in 2016,” said one of the authors, Casey Lowe of Caltech, in statement. “Now we have two, and that raises some important questions.”

Astronomers are still unsure of exactly how FRBs are made, so there may be two different processes that create repetitive and non-repetitive bursts. Or they can be produced by the same type of object, but these objects evolve over time to emit different bursts.

“Are those who repeat themselves different from those who do not repeat themselves? How about constant radio broadcasting – is it common? “Said another co-author, Kshitij Aggarwal, summarizing some of the key issues.

One of the leading theories about the origin of FRBs is that they are created by magnetars, which are a type of neutron star with a very strong magnetic field. Although it is not yet clear how exactly, something about the way magnets emit radio waves can create a dramatic impulse. Other theories suggest that the bursts may be related to particularly dramatic supernova explosions, or dark matter causing the pulsars to collapse.

The study was published in the journal nature.

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