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Signals from space. The mysterious heartbeat of billions of light years from Earth. What is FRB 20191221A?

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Astronomers from the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and other research centers have detected a repetitive radio signal from a galaxy billions of light years from Earth. They were surprised by its regularity, which they compare to the beating of a human heart. The source of the signal remains a mystery, although scientists have some suspicions.

The signal appears regularly and lasts a maximum of three seconds, while most of the similar fast radio bursts (FRB), to which the one just discovered is classified, last milliseconds. As reported in the MIT press release, “this window detected bursts of radio waves repeating every 0.2 seconds with a distinct rhythm similar to a beating heart.”

The signal was received for the first time on December 21, 2019 by the CHIME radio telescope at the Canadian Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory institute. “It took a long time, about three seconds, but there were extremely precise periodic peaks that emitted a bang, bang, bang every split second – like a heartbeat,” said Daniele Michilli from MIT. “This is the first time the signal itself is periodic,” he added.

“The new signal could be a magnetar or pulsar on steroids.”

The mysterious signal has been designated FRB 20191221A and, as highlighted, is currently the longest-lasting of the fast radio bursts. It comes from a distant galaxy several billion light years from Earth. Scientists cannot pinpoint the exact location, but suspect it may be from a pulsar or a magnetar, which are types of neutron stars formed by the evolution of high-mass stars.

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“There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals,” observes Daniele Michilli. As he explains, pulsars and magnetars are examples of such objects in our galaxy. “We think this new signal could be a magnetar or pulsar” on steroids, “he says.

Pulsars emit beams of radio waves pulsating as they rotate. Similar emissions are produced by magnetars due to the strong magnetic field.

A million times brighter than “ours”

According to the researchers, the main difference between the new signal and radio wave emissions from pulsars and magnetars in our galaxy is that FRB 20191221A appears over a million times brighter. According to Michilli, the source of the bursts observed could be a distant object that normally is not so bright, and now “for some unknown reason it has ejected a series of flashes that the telescope has happily picked up.”

Researchers hope to detect further bursts to better understand the signal’s origin.

The discovery was written this week in the journal Nature.

eurekalert.org, npr.org, tvnmeteo.pl

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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