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A Canadian-based telescope found a source of mysterious radio bursts that repeat every 16 days, according to a new study reported by Gizmodo. This is the first radio burst to repeat with regular radio frequency bursts known to science.
Fast Radio Bursts
Known as fast radio bursts (FRB) these bright radio blips come from deep space. After the first radio burst — discovered in 2001 — astronomers have found more of these burst events. In the beginning, detection was slim and infrequent, but later more were found with help from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst (CHIME/FRB) Project. Scientists have, of course, found repeating FRBs in the past. But the newfound object — known by its somewhat long-winded name, FRB 180916.J0158+65 — is the first of its kind.
Advanced statistical tests carried out by the international teamwork of scientists led by Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics graduate student Dongzi Li, FRB 180916.J0158+65 emitted fast blips once every 16 days. With this pattern, the team had sufficient data to eliminate coincidence. The European Very-long-baseline-interferometry Network (EVN) of telescopes confirmed the Canadian findings at the source, spotting the burst from this FRB on June 19, 2019.
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CHIME in on hydrogen atoms
CHIME is a type of radio telescope in southern British Columbia, made up of four half-cylinders juxtaposed to one another, functioning like fixed antennae to map the sky. Designed to map the emission from hydrogen atoms, CHIME uses a very wide field-of-view and captures a broad range of electromagnetic radiation frequencies.
The instrument can also hunt FRBs, as it scans 1,024 points in the sky at 16,000 different frequencies, 1,000 times per second, according to the official CHIME website.
The bursts' periodicity — or recurrence at regular intervals — is actually enough to take a guess at what object lies behind the sensational phenomenon. According to the paper, the cause for the radio bursts could be a binary star (two stars locked in orbit) accompanied by a third celestial body.
However, since the data doesn't explicitly confirm or deny this hypothesis, it could also be a magnetar — a compact, magnetized neutron star — although researchers note that these usually have rotational periods of less than 12 seconds, drastically shorter than the 16-day interval CHIME recorded.
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While the paper itself is still under embargo, this discovery signifies yet another landmark discovery in the era of radio astronomy, and for science.