A new radio wave in space is attracting scientists because it may tell us something about its source.
These signals, known as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), have been one of the most confusing phenomena in astrophysics due to the difficulty in studying them. Because they only last a millisecond, telescopes often cannot concentrate on them in time to get a good overview. It has long been believed that FRBs come from some kind of astrophysics event that occurs in a very distant galaxy. At the end of April, however, a new outbreak discovered by a mixture of satellites could be the greatest clue we have so far about its source, which could be here in our own galaxy.
As reported by Nature, papers that have not yet been reviewed by experts flood the arXiv preprint server and analyze an outbreak of a magnetic star in the Milky Way known as SGR 1
“The new evidence that a magnetar in the Milky Way is rapidly breaking out is groundbreaking,” Avi Loeb, chair of the Harvard Astronomy Department, told Salon via email.
Astrophysicists have long suspected that a magnetar, a type of neutron star with an extremely strong magnetic field, is the source of FRBs, but have so far had no evidence of a link.
“I would not say that it is the nail in the coffin that we found out that rapid radio waves emanate from magnetars,” Emily Petroff, astronomer at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, told Nature. “But it is by far the most promising piece of evidence we have found.”
On April 27, various satellites discovered γ-rays flowing from SGR 1935 + 2154, one of about 30 magnetic stars in our galaxy. The next day, the CHIME radio telescope (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) discovered a massive radio flash from the area in the sky where the Magnetar is located.
“Young magnetars were thought to be the most likely cosmological source for FRBs,” said Loeb. “This is because FRBs have a similar duration (one thousandth of a second), but ten billion times brighter than the pulses from magnetized galactic neutron stars called pulsars.”
Loeb added that this new discovery in late April showed that “Magnetars can produce bright flashes of radio waves, albeit with a performance still a thousand times weaker than the sources of FRBs.”
In other words, he said, the discovery was the “smoking weapon,” which is certainly strong evidence, “but too small to explain the crime scene.”
Because of its nature and movement, nature supports the theory that magnestars could be the source of FRBs.
“Because magnetars rotate quickly and have strong magnetic fields, they have huge energy reservoirs that can cause eruptions,” writes Alexandra Witze in Nature. “An idea about the source of these eruptions is that something that happens inside the magnetar – like a ‘star quake’, analogous to an earthquake – could crack its surface and release energy.
Jokes adds: “Another possibility is that the strongly magnetized environment around the magnetar somehow creates the burst.”
FRBs were first discovered in 2007 and were previously viewed as random impulses. According to an article published on the arXiv server at the end of January, researchers who examined FRBs found that the repeater known as FRB 180916.J0158 + 65 is a “repeater”, “which means that it repeatedly sends out bursts and follows a regular pattern.
Loeb told Salon that there may be problems “explaining the abundant population of cosmological FRB sources with a population of magnetic flashes.”
“It is possible that the reservoir of FRBs is a mixed bag. In other words, there are different populations of sources, some of which are similar to those in our galaxy,” he said.
Although our civilization often communicates with radio waves, these mysterious signals are unlikely to come from an extraterrestrial civilization, as Salon previously reported.
“It is unlikely that all FRBs will come from foreign civilizations due to the need for electricity at cosmological distances, but it is possible,” Loeb told Salon earlier. “We worked out the numbers in a newspaper two years ago with my postdoc Manasvi Lingam.”