Updated December 16th, 2023 at 15:13 IST

Fast radio bursts take an even stranger turn in space

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), those enigmatic millisecond-long flashes of radio waves in the vast expanse of space have long intrigued astronomers.

Manasvi Asthana
Mysterious fast radio bursts in space keep getting stranger
Mysterious fast radio bursts in space keep getting stranger. | Image:AP

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), those enigmatic millisecond-long flashes of radio waves in the vast expanse of space have long intrigued astronomers and their mystique has deepened even further.

Since the discovery of the first fast radio burst (FRB) in 2007, astronomers have been on a quest to unravel the mysteries behind these brief, intense celestial events. Emerging from distant corners of the universe, hundreds of these rapid bursts have been identified. According to a previous study published in the journal Science indicates that within a mere thousandth of a second, these bursts can unleash energy equivalent to or surpassing what the sun produces in an entire year. Astronomers are still unable to understand what causes them.


In an intriguing twist, scientists have observed an unprecedented and quirky pattern in a recently identified repeating fast radio burst named FRB 20220912A. Published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Wednesday, a study delves into this discovery, offering valuable insights for researchers seeking to pinpoint the source of this phenomenon. However, the newfound pattern also introduces additional enigmas, adding a layer of complexity to the ongoing quest for understanding fast radio bursts.

Discovery of the fast radio burst

The discovery of the peculiar fast radio burst, FRB 20220912A was made possible by astronomers utilizing the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) of the California-based SETI Institute. Comprising 42 antennae situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in the Cascade Mountains. The ATA played a pivotal role in capturing and analyzing this enigmatic cosmic event.

Over a span of two months, the research team successfully identified an astounding 35 fast radio bursts emanating from a single source, as per reports.


What is Fast Radio Bursts?

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) typically unleash radio waves that endure only for a few fleeting milliseconds, rendering them challenging to observe. However, a subset of FRBs exhibits a repeating nature, emitting follow-up bursts that astronomers have leveraged to trace these signals back to distant galaxies. This distinctive characteristic provides a valuable avenue for researchers to glean insights into the elusive origins of fast radio bursts.


Initially, FRB 20220912A exhibited similarities to other recognized "repeaters," with each detected burst demonstrating a characteristic shift from higher to lower frequencies. Upon closer examination, researchers identified a novel feature in the signal of FRB 20220912A a distinctive drop in the center frequency of the bursts, akin to a cosmic slide whistle.

In their quest for understanding, the team endeavored to identify a discernible pattern in the timings between each burst of FRB 20220912A, akin to certain other repeating fast radio bursts. However, their efforts yielded no such pattern, underscoring the unpredictable nature of these celestial events. The elusiveness of a clear timing sequence adds another layer of complexity to the intricate puzzle of fast radio bursts.


Dr. Sofia Sheikh, the lead author of the study and a National Science Foundation MPS-Ascend postdoctoral fellow at the SETI Institute, expressed enthusiasm about the findings, stating, "This work is exciting because it provides both confirmation of known FRB properties and the discovery of some new ones." 


Published December 16th, 2023 at 15:13 IST

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