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Fast Radio Burst: Second mysterious radio signal from space detected by scientists

Astronomers have detected a Fast Radio Burst (FRB) radio signal coming from space, the second of its kind, which raises more questions about the origins of these radio bursts.

Artist's conception 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. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers have detected a radio signal coming from space, the second of its kind, which raises more questions about their origins. The signal is coming from a galaxy believed to be nearly 3 billion light-years away. The detection of the new Fast Radio Burst (FRB) termed FRB 20190520B raises some important questions about the origin and source of these signals.

The researchers have published their findings in a new paper in the scientific journal Nature. The paper notes that the source of FRB 20190520B is “co-located with a compact, persistent radio source and associated with a dwarf host galaxy of high specific-star-formation..” The signal is supposed to be close to another unknown object, which is emitting a weaker radio signal. This sort of combination has only been observed in another FRB.

FRB are intense but brief flashes of radio frequency emissions and these typically last milliseconds. These are known to send out repeat radio waves multiple times. However, scientists are yet to fully understand the phenomenon, and they were first discovered back in 2007.  The discovery of FRB is credited to graduate student David Narkevic and his supervisor Duncan Lorimer, according to Space.com.

The paper notes that the FRB 20190520B, was detected using the Five-hundred-meter
Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in Guizhou, China in May 2019. Scientists followed this up with monthly observations and detected nearly 75 bursts between April 2020 and September 2020 detected. The researchers localised FRB 20190520B using the US National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Karl G Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), which is a radio astronomy observatory located in central New Mexico. Researchers also observed that the object constantly emits weaker radio waves between bursts.

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“These characteristics make this one look a lot like the very first FRB whose position was determined — also by the VLA — back in 2016,” said Casey Law, of Caltech who is one of the co-authors of the study in a statement to the National Science Foundation. The 2016 object is called FRB 121102 and the properties are similar to FRB20190520B. “Now we actually need to explain this double mystery and why FRBs and persistent radio sources are found together sometimes,” Law told CNN.com. The earlier FRB is also close to a persistent radio source.

The researchers have also theorised that the FRB 190520 may be a “newborn,” according to the news release. This means it is “still surrounded by dense material ejected by the supernova explosion that left behind the neutron star.”

The theory is that once the material dissipates, the burst signals will also decline. But researchers cautioned that some still questions still need to be answered. “The FRB field is moving very fast right now and new discoveries are coming out monthly. However, big questions still remain, and this object is giving us challenging clues about those questions,” said Sarah Burke-Spolaor, of WVU, another co-author said in a statement.

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First published on: 09-06-2022 at 10:20:59 am
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