A new study paints an unexpected picture of strange cosmic eruptions that scientists have been researching since 2007 and finds one that repeats in a 157-day pattern. These bursts last only a few milliseconds, but are recognizable from Earth due to their extremely high energy.
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) have so far been observed only once in repeating patterns and discovered using AI to view large amounts of telescope data. They were also used as research tools themselves to illuminate mysterious galactic halos and even to find the missing matter in the universe.
However, scientists are still not sure what is causing the outbreaks and where they came from.
For four years, astronomers used the Lovell telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK to observe an FRB called 121102 and discovered 32 outbreaks. These bursts repeated in a cyclical pattern that repeats every 157 days – with bursts in the first 90 periods followed by 67 days of silence before the bursts begin again.
The Lovell telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Amy Bishop (University of Manchester)
Since these bursts are regular, this suggests that they could be caused by the movement of bodies such as the orbital movement of a black hole or a neutron star. Earlier theories suggested that the bursts may be caused by a "preceding" neutron star that wobbles like a spinning top. However, the long period of inactivity observed in this FRB suggests that this is not likely.
Dr. Kaustubh Rajwade of the University of Manchester, head of research, said in a statement: “This is an exciting result because it is only the second system that we believe we see this modulation in burst activity. Recognizing periodicity is an important constraint on the origin of the bursts, and the activity cycles could speak against a preceding neutron star. "
According to the researchers, the determination of periods of inactivity can be as informative as the periods of activity. The only other periodic FRB observed so far had a much shorter cycle of only 16 days, while these new findings point to a timescale that is almost ten times longer.
"This exciting discovery shows how little we know about the origins of FRBs," said researcher Duncan Lorimer in the statement. "Further observations of a larger number of FRBs will be required to get a clearer picture of these periodic sources and to clarify their origin."