Scientists trace mysterious cosmic radio bursts to likely source
A discovery by an international group of astronomers has brought scientists one step closer to identifying the source of the mysterious fast radio burst emanating from the cosmos.
The repeating burst, known as FRB 121102, was first detected by researchers in 2012. Last year, it was found to be coming from a star-forming dwarf galaxy three billion light-years from Earth, but the actual origins of such bursts have baffled scientists for more than a decade. Now, scientists from Cornell University in New York believe the bursts are produced somewhere extreme, likely an area around a massive black hole.
The study, published this month in the journal Nature, found that the cosmic blast passes through a highly magnetized field of dense plasma, causing the phenomenon to “twist” to a degree 500 times greater than in any other burst ever recorded. “The only known sources in our galaxy that are twisted as much as FRB 121102 are in the Galactic Center, which is a dynamic region near a massive black hole,” Daniele Michilli, PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam and ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, said in a statement.
Another working theory is that the burst is originating from a region beside a neutron star with an especially large magnetic field. The data was collected using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and confirmed by Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.
Fast radio bursts are usually singular events, occuring once and lasting just milliseconds. As powerful radio signals, they can generate as much energy as 500 million suns. What makes FRB 121102 exceptional is that it has been recorded repeating itself more than 200 times.
A popular theory is that the busts are signals from a distant alien civilisation – a theory that some researchers still haven’t ruled out. A recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal of Letters even went as far as proposing they could be coming from giant planet-sized transmitters in galaxies billions of light-years away. The researchers speculated they could be used for powering ‘solar sails’ on a colossal alien spacecraft.