Loud bursts of energy that repeat like a heartbeat are detected billions of light-years from Earth

A mysterious object billions of light-years from Earth emits strong bursts of energy in a pattern similar to a heartbeat.

A team of astronomers, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has captured what are officially called fast radio bursts (FRBs), which are intense radio waves that typically last a few milliseconds.

However, the newly detected FRB persists for up to three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than average.

The signal, labeled FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern, detected to date.

Although the researchers aren’t sure of the source, they suspect the signal is coming from a radio pulsar or a magnetar, both of which are types of neutron stars – collapsed cores of extremely dense giant stars. and rotating rapidly.

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The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope (pictured). This FRB persists for up to three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than average

The first FRB was detected in 2007, sparking a hunt to find the source and hopefully uncover secrets about the space between galaxies by studying the signal path.

Daniele Michilli, a post-doctoral fellow at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said in a statement: “There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals.

“Examples we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which spin and produce a beam emission similar to a lighthouse.

“And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or a pulsar on steroids.”

The signal, labeled FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern, detected to date (stock photo)

The signal, labeled FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern, detected to date (stock photo)

Fast radio bursts – described as “brief and mysterious beacons” – have been spotted in various distant parts of the universe, as well as in our own galaxy.

Their origins are unknown and their appearance is unpredictable.

The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope.

CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment), located in British Columbia, Canada, has four 328-foot-long U-shaped cylinders, allowing it to detect signals from when the universe was between 6 and 11 billion years.

And this telescope has nearly quadrupled the number of fast radio bursts discovered to date.

The radio burst pattern of FRB 20191221A bears similarities to emissions from radio pulsars and magnetars in our own galaxy.

Radio pulsars are neutron stars that emit beams of radio waves, appearing to pulsate as the star rotates, while a similar emission is produced by magnetars due to their extreme magnetic fields.

The main difference between the new signal and radio emissions from our own galactic pulsars and magnetars is that FRB 20191221A appears to be more than a million times brighter.

Michilli said the bright flashes could be from a distant radio pulsar or magnetar which is normally less bright when rotating and which, for some unknown reason, ejected a train of bright flashes, “in a rare three-second window that CHIME was fortunately positioned to catch,’ he continued.

“CHIME has now detected many FRBs with different properties,” Michilli said.

“We have seen some that live inside very turbulent clouds, while others seem to be in clean environments.

“From the properties of this new signal, we can say that around this source there is a cloud of plasma which must be extremely turbulent.”

Astronomers hope to pick up additional bursts from periodic FRB 20191221A, which can help narrow down the source of the signal and learn more about neutron stars.

“This detection raises the question of what could be causing this extreme signal that we’ve never seen before, and how can we use this signal to study the universe,” Michilli said.

“Future telescopes promise to discover thousands of FRBs per month, and by then we might find many more of these periodic signals.”

WHAT IS THE CHIME TELESCOPE?

Image courtesy of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaboration showing the CHIME radio telescope

Image courtesy of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaboration showing the CHIME radio telescope

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime) is a radio telescope in Canada.

With funding of £12.2 million ($16 million), CHIME is located in the mountains of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley at the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, near Penticton.

It contains four 100-metre-long (328 ft) U-shaped cylinders, which allow it to detect signals from when the universe was between 6 and 11 billion years old.

With its U-shaped wire-mesh cylinders, experts have compared it to the half-pipes used by snowboarders and skateboarders.

CHIME is a stationary network with no moving parts. The telescope receives radio signals from half the sky every day as the Earth rotates.

While most radio astronomy is done by rotating a large dish to focus light from different parts of the sky, CHIME stares motionless at the sky.

It concentrates incoming signals using a correlator – a powerful digital signaling processor that can process huge amounts of data, at a rate of around 7 terabits per second, or the equivalent of a few percent of the global internet traffic.

“Digital signal processing is what allows CHIME to reconstruct and ‘look’ in thousands of directions simultaneously,” said Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics at MIT.

“It’s what helps us detect FRBs a thousand times more often than a traditional telescope.”

Its unique design, combined with advanced computing power, will serve as a “time machine” to peer deeply into the history of the universe.

CHIME collects radio waves with wavelengths between 37 and 75 centimeters.

Most of these signals come from the Milky Way, but some began their journey billions of years ago.

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