Cosmologists have detected yet another mysterious and powerful fast radio burst (FRB) knocking Earth from an unknown source in space. If that’s not strange enough, this particular radio signal is incredibly low, in the 580 MHz frequency range – nearly 200 MHz lower than any other fast radio burst has been detected ever.
What is FRB?
Fast Radio Burst or FRBs are some of the most explosive and mysterious events in the Universe. They can generate as much energy as 500 million Suns within a few milliseconds, and there could be as many as one happening every second.
One of the signals we’ve detected has repeated, sending out multiple FRBs from the same location, and this has allowed us to pinpoint where in the Universe it’s coming from (spoiler: not our galaxy).
The puzzle is, we still don’t know what’s causing them or even if there are different varieties of FRBs coming from different sources and that’s what makes them more mysterious. The vast majority signals we only ever detect once, which gives us very little to go off.
The Recent detected FRB
According to a report in The Astronomer’s Telegram, on the morning of 25 July 2018, an array of radio telescopes in British Columbia, Canada, detected a very strange FRB. The fast radio burst has been named FRB 180725A after the year, month, and the day it was detected.
The most interesting part is that the intense signal was transmitted in radio frequencies as low as 580 MHz – making it the first detection of an FRB under 700 MHz.
The Astronomer’s Telegram is a bulletin board of observations posted by accredited researchers – so while these are genuine detections, it’s important to note that they haven’t been peer reviewed as yet and independent teams haven’t verified that the signals are from space.
That sounds like a silly thing to say, but let’s not forget that back in 1998, researchers thought they had discovered a new type of radio signal coming from space, only to figure out 17 years later that it was coming from a microwave oven in their research facility. Or even the very recent rediscovery of Mars.
These events have occurred during both the day and night and their arrival times are not correlated with known on-site activities or other known sources.
What do scientists think these weird signals could be?
The most recent research on the repeating FRB suggests the source is a neutron star, but other hypotheses for FRBs include black holes, pulsars with companion stars, imploding pulsars, a type of star called a blitzar, a connection with gamma-ray bursts (which we now know can be caused by colliding neutron stars), and magnetars emitting giant flares.
It’s also increasingly likely that there’s more than one explanation for the explosive events. We should add that it’s also not impossible that FRBs could be engines firing on giant alien spaceships, either, according to a Harvard physicist.
What we do know is that they cover a spread of frequencies – an even wider spread than initially thought, this new detection shows – and they seem to be coming from very far away, possibly billions of light-years. This suggests whatever is causing them has to be extremely energetic.
Regardless of their source, if we can get better at detecting them and understanding their origin, they could help unveil clues as to the origin of the Universe and the mysterious Epoch of Reionization, the time during which the interstellar medium, primarily hydrogen, became ionized in the very early universe.
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With new, powerful tools coming online that will help us detect more and more of these FRBs, scientists are optimistic it won’t be long until we can narrow down where they’re coming from, and, hopefully, what’s causing at least some of them.