December 3, 2022

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A signal from deep space challenges our current understanding

China’s huge FAST Radio Telescope has detected a repeating radio signal from deep space baffled astronomers. The Repeated Fast Radio Burst, or FRB, was first detected last year and named FRB 20201124A. Since last year, 1,863 donations have been recorded in 82 hours in a total of 54 days of observations.

Evidence so far indicates that it is a magnetar – a neutron star with extremely strong magnetic fields.

The notes brought us back to the drawing board. Clearly, FRBs are more mysterious than we expected. More observations at multiple wavelengths are needed to reveal the nature of these objects.

First discovered in 2001, FRBs are an incredibly powerful wave of radio waves that only lasts milliseconds, and emits the energy of 500 million suns. Most FRBs in the record have only been observed once, which makes them difficult to explain and understand. But some FRBs are frequent, allowing scientists to trace their source to other galaxies. In 2020, we detected a FRB inside our galaxy for the first time, leading astronomers to pinpoint the source of this phenomenon, which turned out to be a magnaastro.

The current FRB has, within two months of observations, given astronomers the largest sample of data on the phenomenon of any other FRB source. But the way the signal’s polarization changed over time showed that both the magnetic field strength and the particle density around the magnetosphere were changing. This made them suspect that there was something else near Magnastro. This object could be a hot blue giant of type B, which is often found companion neutron stars in binary systems.

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But there was something else strange. Magnastras are essentially the core of massive stars that, having exhausted their fuel, collapse under the influence of their own gravity. So Magnastras are located in regions of space where stars are still forming. These stars live their short lives and die, creating more clouds of material to give birth to new stars. But FRB 20201124A has been found in a galaxy very similar to our own. There isn’t a lot of new star-forming activity, so the FRB is in a galaxy virtually devoid of star-forming.

Scientists think we’re missing an important piece of information, and a gap in our understanding of FRB magma formation and the locations in which it is located.

The search was published in temper nature.

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