Unexpected observations of a series of fast radio bursts (FRBs) challenge prevailing understanding of the physical nature and central driver of these strange cosmic signs.
FRBs are millisecond-long cosmic explosions that produce energy equivalent to the sun’s annual output. More than 15 years after pulses of electromagnetic radio waves were first discovered in the deep spacetheir puzzling nature continues to amaze scientists, and recently published research only deepens the mystery that surrounds them.
The observations under re-investigation were made in late spring 2021 using the huge radio telescope five-hundred-meter aperture spherical (FAST) in China. The team, led by Heng Xu, Kejia Lee, Subo Dong from Peking University, and Weiwei Zhu from the observatories National Astronomical China, along with Zhang, detected 1,863 bursts in 82 hours over 54 days from an active fast radio burst source called FRB. 20201124A.
“This is the largest sample of FRB data with polarization information from a single source,” Lee said in a statement.
Recent observations of a fast radio burst from our galaxy, the Milky Waysuggest that it originated in a magnetar, which is a star dense neutron field the size of a city with an incredibly powerful magnetic field.
The origin of very distant cosmological fast radio bursts, on the other hand, remains unknown. And the latest observations leave the scientists questioning what they thought they knew about them.
“These observations took us back to the drawing board,” said Zhang, who also serves as founding director of the Center for Astrophysics of Nevada from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“It is clear that FRBs are more mysterious than we imagine. More multi-wavelength observing campaigns are needed to further reveal the nature of these objects.”