Science

Astronomers intercept mysterious repeating radio signals from space

Astronomers intercept mysterious repeating radio signals from space

Intriguingly, one of these newly documented bursts is a repeater, becoming just the second-known repeating fast radio burst among the 60 documented so far.

With CHIME, this concept for telescope design comes of age and is being used for breakthrough science to detect FRBs. Seeing two repeating signals probably means that there exists - and that humanity will probably find - a "substantial population" of repeating signals, the researchers write in one of the two papers published in Nature.

Before CHIME began to gather data, some scientists wondered if the range of radio frequencies the telescope had been created to detect would be too low to pick up fast radio bursts.

"By understanding these propagation effects and being able to separate them from the intrinsic characteristics of FRBs, we hope to be able to use FRBs as probes of the electron distribution and magnetic field distribution in the Universe which would tell us about how the Universe built up structures, such as galaxies, galaxy clusters, and so on", explained Tendulkar. The telescope responsible for these findings, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, promises to be the most effective FRB hunter in operation. Experts speculate one of these could be the source of FRBs. The project wasn't yet living up to its full potential, suggesting that there are plenty more bursts to be discovered.

One hypothesis is that powerful astrophysical phenomena are causing them. Astronomers have grappled with this mystery for years because, while they continue to observe bursts, they are still unsure of what causes them.




This particular set of signals was registered by the CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, which consists of four 100-metre-long, semi-cylindrical antennas that are able to scan the entire northern sky each day.

The first repeated burst was discovered by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 2015.

The team - who have been specifically looking for FRBs - also noted that all of the new signals observed have been under 800 MHz, which is much lower than the previously detected frequencies, which hovered around the 1,400 MHz area. "By detecting and characterising fast radio bursts at different frequencies, we can better understand which theories work and which do not". "Or near the central black hole in a galaxy".

The only other detected repeating FRB signal was picked up in November 2012.

"This is good news for radio telescopes that are sensitive at lower radio frequencies", she said. An FRB is a very short pulse, akin to the kind of short pulses that come from pulsars, but unlike pulsars they mostly don't repeat. The $16-million investment for CHIME was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the governments of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, with additional funding from the Dunlap Institute, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. "We haven't solved the problem, but it's several more pieces in the puzzle".


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