The Fast Radio Burst: A Celestial Phenomenon That Is Getting More Mysterious

Scientists are scratching their heads over a mysterious phenomena in space — flashes of energy called a fast radio burst. Just as soon as one group seemed to identify where they came from, another stepped forward with an even more incredible claim — the flashes are repeating.

A fast radio burst is an explosion of radio waves, which “explode in the sky like a flash from a camera,” The Christian Science Monitor explained. These explosions are radio waves, and though they flash for only a millisecond, the fast radio burst releases as much energy as the sun will produce in 10,000 years.

The fast radio burst was first seen in 2007 and it’s possible that thousands of these explosion occur every day; so far, only 17 have been spotted by human eyes, The Washington Post added. Because they’re short-lived and unpredictable, observing this phenomena is a challenge; so far, the only ones seen have been composed of single flashes.

Scientists don’t really know where the fast radio burst comes from, and it’s the origin and nature of the fast radio burst that has scientists divided.

Last week, a group of scientists claimed that they found the exact host galaxy, beyond our own, where the fast radio burst is generated, ABC News reported. They also suggested that the cause was a star collision. This collision is described as a “cataclysmic” event in which both of the powerful, colliding objects decimate each other.

This explanation seems to fit if the fast radio burst is seen as a single flash. But not long after the group seemed to find its origin and cause, another made a remarkable discovery — the energy was pulsing.

“So, either there’s an odd coincidence, or maybe there are different types of FRBs,” Cornell Shami Chatterjee said. “Either way, it seems we’ve broken this enigmatic phenomenon wide open.”

The trouble is, star collisions are a one-off thing and they don’t repeat. The theory based on these new observations is that at least some fast radio burst events come from sources that are able to release that energy over and over again.

The repeating fast radio burst was discovered in archived data and observed through the incredibly sensitive and massive Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. It lasted 10 milliseconds and is the 17th fastest radio burst discovered. Ten more bursts followed the first.

“It’s a great clue for what might be causing this. It’s not a one off thing, it’s a stable system that can be active again and again and again,” said Harvard University’s Edo Berger.

This “stable system” could be a super-powerful neutron star, a “stellar zombie” that is the leftover remains of huge stars, perished through supernova. These are the densest stars in the universe because they are just about to become black holes and have just enough pressure left to stop vanishing into nothing.

“So these new findings could suggest some kind of very extreme pulsating neutron star, spinning very fast, with a strong magnetic field… beyond what you’d find with one in our own galaxy. It would have to be a very rare type of source,” added scientist Jason Hessels.

When a star explodes in a supernova, it leaves behind the neutron star, and the magnetar is the “super-magnetized” version of that core. The rearrangement of a magnetar’s magnetic field could explain the pulsing, he explained.

Scientists also theorize that the FRB has more than one origin — some are created by space collisions, others come from more stable sources — like the neutron star. The newest observations seem to imply that while star collisions don’t repeat, the fast radio burst does.

More research and observations are needed, the scientists said. Three very sensitive instruments designed to detect the phenomena will open this year, so it’s possible that this hotly debated mystery will be solved soon.

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