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Scientists detect mysterious radio signals in space

Scientists detect mysterious radio signals in space

The repeating FRB detected this past summer by CHIME is only the second one of its kind ever recorded, following one that was detected in 2012.

The fast radio bursts suggest there could be more out there, researchers say. Some scientists had anxious that the range of frequencies it can pick up would be too low for it to receive the FRBs - but it found far more than expected, and scientists expect it to identify even more.

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are radio emissions that appear temporarily and randomly, making them not only hard to find, but also hard to study.

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.

"And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles - where they're from and what causes them", he said.

The presence of a second source of repeat FRBs - as well as the detection during CHIME's brief active pre-commission period - hints at the potential existence of two different types of radio bursts, one that happen only once and another that results in multiple bursts from one spot.

The highly unusual repeating signal was among 13 fast radio bursts - known as FRBs - and came from the same source, about 1.5 billion light years away.

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The first one, deemed FRB 121102, was discovered in 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescope, and it was revealed in 2018 that the bursts release an enormous amount of energy. "This tells us more about the properties of repeaters as a population", said Shriharsh Tendulkar of McGill University, Canada.

"[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth", said Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member. "Or near the central black hole in a galaxy".

They include a neutron star with a very strong magnetic field that is spinning very rapidly, two neutron stars merging together, and, among a minority of observers, some form of alien spaceship. "But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see".

"Whatever the source of these radio waves is, it's interesting to see how wide a range of frequencies it can produce".

Team member Dr Cherry Ng, from the University of Toronto, Canada, said: 'That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova (exploding star) remnant.

"This is good news for radio telescopes that are sensitive at lower radio frequencies", she said.

While most FRBs have been spotted at wavelengths of a few centimetres, the latest FRBs were detected at wavelengths of almost a metre, which opens up new lines of inquiry, according to the CHIME team.


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