Astronomers detect a radio heartbeat billions of light years from Earth

Les astronomes détectent un « battement de coeur » radio à des milliards d&rsquo

Les astronomes détectent un « battement de coeur » radio à des milliards d’années-lumière de la Terre

Astronomers from McGill University, MIT and elsewhere have detected a strange, persistent radio signal from a distant galaxy that appears to blink with surprising regularity. Classified as a fast radio burst, or FRB, this new signal persists for up to three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than the average FRB. Within this window, the team detected bursts of radio waves that repeat every 0.2 seconds in a clear periodic pattern.

The researchers have labeled the signal FRB 20191221A. It is currently the longest-lived FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern, detected to date. The discovery is reported today in the journal Nature and is authored by members of the CHIME / FRB collaboration.

On December 21, 2019, the CHIME telescope picked up a signal from a potential FRB, which immediately caught the attention of Daniele Michilli, who noticed something unusual while scanning the incoming data.

Not only was it very long, lasting about three seconds, but there were periodic peaks that were remarkably precise, making every fraction of a second - boom, boom, boom - feel like a heartbeat," recalls Michilli, who led the discovery, first as a researcher at McGill University and then as a researcher at the University of Toronto.putting each fraction of a second - boom, boom, boom - like a heartbeat," recalls Michilli, who led the discovery, first as a researcher at McGill University and then as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. This is the first time that the signal itself is periodic.

There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals," adds Aaron Pearlman, an FRQNT postdoctoral fellow at the McGill Space Institute who also collaborated on the paper. The examples we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce a beam emission similar to a lighthouse. And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or pulsar on steroids.

The team hopes to detect more periodic signals from this source, which could then be used as an astrophysical clock. For example, the frequency of the bursts, and how they change as the source moves away from Earth, could be used to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding.

This research was supported, in part, by the Canada Foundation for Innovation

Written in collaboration with Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

-Sub-second periodicity in a fast radio burst- by Bridget Andersen et al. in Nature

Written in collaboration with Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office


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