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May 23, 2024

Strange New Pattern Detected in Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts from Deep Space

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Dec 17, 2023

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) – intensely strong bursts of radio waves from distant galaxies – have confounded astronomers since their discovery over a decade ago. Now, new research reveals that these enigmatic signals are growing even more perplexing with the detection of the first periodic pattern observed from a repeating FRB source.

Repeating Radio Bursts Reveal Unexplained 157 Day Cycle

Analysis of a repeating FRB named FRB 180916.J0158+65 has uncovered a 157 day activity cycle in which the bursts switch between periods of high activity and dormancy (CNN, Fox Weather 1). This newly discovered periodicity, outlined in two papers published in Nature, has scientists scratching their heads as no existing explanations account for this strange quirk.

“We conclude that this cyclic behavior is an intrinsic property of this particular repeating FRB,” stated Dr. Ziggy Pleunis, a scientist at the SETI Institute in California and lead author on one of the studies. The reason behind this periodic bursting and dormancy remains an open question, but could provide vital clues about the source environment and energy generation mechanisms driving FRBs.

While most FRBs observed so far are one-off bursts, some have been found to repeat. Of the over 500 FRBs detected, only around 20 fall into this repeating category (Scitechdaily). FRB 180916.J0158+65 is one such repeater first identified in 2018, emitting radio bursts every few hours before falling dormant for months. The newly discovered 157 day pattern marks the longest known periodicity for any FRB.

Main Theory Fails to Explain New Quirk

The leading model hypothesizes FRBs originate frommagnetars – highly magnetized neutron stars resulting from stellar explosions. In this model, the FRB emission comes from flares and outbursts triggered by magnetic field instabilities (Futurism).

However, the magnetar theory cannot readily explain this newly uncovered long-term cyclic activity, presenting a challenge to astronomers. No known magnetar has exhibited emission patterns at periodicities beyond a few seconds or days.

“The discovery of a 157 day activity cycle in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of these events,” said Dr. Casey Law, UC Berkeley astronomer and co-author on the studies.

While the source of FRBs remains unknown, each new detection brings us closer to unlocking their secrets. This breakthrough periodic finding underscores how much there still is to learn.

Cycle Points to Unprecedented Energy Generation Mechanism

The precise physical origins generating FRBs’ immense energy outputs – roughly a billion times more than the Sun per burst – represents one of astronomy’s biggest unsolved mysteries (WION News). To date, no explanations have managed to fully capture all of FRBs’ perplexing observed properties.

“This exciting discovery highlights how little we know about the origin of FRBs,” stated Dr. Christopher Bochenek, astronomer at Caltech. “Many theories struggle to explain the high luminosities we observe, and this periodic behavior provides an entirely new set of constraints.”

The newly detected 157 cycle now gives another vital clue. Any theoretical models must now also account for not only the FRBs’ brightness, but this periodic switching behavior. This additional constraint will help astronomers continue narrowing down viable mechanisms.

“The predictable nature of these bursts suggests an energy storage-and-release process that’s regular like clockwork over long timescales,” explained Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian, a NASA scientist. “This emission behavior is unprecedented for any known astrophysical object.”

Astronomers emphasize that further observations will be critical, both to ensure this periodic pattern robustly persists over longer timescales and to uncover any other repeating FRBs exhibiting similar cyclic behaviors. But if upheld, this breakthrough discovery could have profound implications for our understanding of these mysterious signals.

Origin Theories Proliferate Amid Deepening Mystery

Theory Overview
Magnetar Model Leading explanation where FRBs originate from highly magnetized neutron stars resulting from stellar explosions. Flares and outbursts triggered by magnetic field instabilities produce observed radio burst emission.
Black Hole Interactions Radio bursts hypothesized to be produced from interactions between black holes and surrounding plasma environments of stars or gas clouds.
Cosmic Strings Bursts explained as echoes of gravitational waves, with cataclysmic events from cosmic strings or domain walls in space-time generating FRB signals.
Extraterrestrial Intelligence While deemed unlikely by most astronomers, some maintain FRBs could potentially have an artificial origin from beacons transmitting energy into space.
Unknown Exotic Object Many suggest some new previously unobserved type of astronomical object or process could be generating FRBs that we simply haven’t discovered yet.

While magnetar-based models currently remain the most well supported empirically, they are now challenged by being unable to readily account for this newly uncovered periodicity (CNN). As a result, alternate proposals continue proliferating – from cosmic strings and black hole interactions to more speculative alien civilization origins – as astronomers grasp to explain these utterly perplexing signals.

“This periodicity provides an important new clue to unlocking long-standing mysteries about FRBs,” said Dr. Vikram Ravi, astronomer at Caltech. “But rather than confirming existing theories as hoped, this quirk only deepens the enigma of these bizarre cosmic radio bursts.”

Global Telescope Networks Gear Up for Answers

A worldwide array of next-generation radio telescopes coming online aim to help transform FRB research and finally decipher their origins. These include CHIME in Canada, HIRAX in South Africa, and SKA precursors in Australia detecting FRBs visible in the southern sky (Futurism).

“With our detectors’ wide views of the sky, we should discover many more FRBs and continue uncovering these signals’ surprising behaviors,” said Dr. Keith Bannister, astronomer with Australia’s CSIRO. “Hopefully one day this leads us to the long sought holy grail – actually localizing an FRB back to its galaxy of origin.”

Pinpointing FRBs back to their host galaxies would enable follow-up observations across the electromagnetic spectrum, providing unparalleled insights into the source environments and physics behind these bursts. For now, intergalactic plasma distorts radio waves scrambling origin locations, keeping FRB galaxies maddeningly out of sight.

But next-generation capabilities edge increasingly closer toward overcoming this barrier. Discoveries like this newly detected periodicity offer vital clues guiding astronomers’ ongoing quest to finally decipher these mysterious signals.

“FRBs seem determined to surprise us with their every utterance,” concluded Dr. Casey Law, astronomer at UC Berkeley. “Cracking open what theserepetitive cosmic flashes are trying to tell us should prove worth all the effort.”

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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