Astronomers discovered three new fast radio burst signals earlier this month, with one of these signals standing out as the strongest one ever recorded.
According to Science Alert, the record-breaking fast radio burst (FRB) had the highest signal-to-noise ratio since the first of its kind was spotted in 2007, making it the “brightest” in history. This signal, codenamed FRB 180309, was observed on March 9, right in the middle of FRB 180301 and FRB 180311, which were reported on March 1 and March 11 respectively, and likewise named after the date they were discovered. All three signals were spotted by the Parkes Observatory radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia.
Although the first-ever fast radio burst took place in 2001, it was only in 2007 when the peculiar phenomenon was first documented, according to RT. In the 11 years since then, FRBs have been recorded from 33 sources, including the three bursts that were observed earlier this month. Keeping in mind the average of slightly less than three FRBs observed per year from 2007 to 2018, the fact that three signals were picked up is noteworthy.
FRB 180309, however, especially piqued the interest of scientists, as its signal-to-noise ratio came in at 411, or more than four times than the strongest FRB prior to that, which had a ratio of only 90. RT wrote that several of the other bursts on record had ratios below 20, further underscoring the strength of the second newest signal.
Typically, fast radio bursts are onetime events that do not get repeated, but there has been one exception to the rule thus far. On November 2, 2012, FRB 121102 became the first and only such signal so far to repeat itself. Each FRB lasts only a few milliseconds, and occurs abruptly without any advance warning, thus making them “impossible to predict,” as pointed out by Science Alert.
Meanwhile, scientists remain baffled by the source of fast radio bursts, as they also try to determine the reason why such events take place. Earlier this month, Gizmodo Australia reported on a “wild” new theory that suggested FRBs are used by alien life forms to power their spaceships, but as Danny Price of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence said shortly after that report, the most plausible theories still revolve around cataclysmic events such as the collision of black holes or neutron stars.