Research

Rotation of fast radio burst reveals origins of the cosmic blast

Rotation of fast radio burst reveals origins of the cosmic blast

Astronomers calculated that the source must be emanating as much energy as 500m suns in the space of a millisecond, in order to explain how it was still detectable three billion years after the event.

Now researchers are closing in on their origins. '03, hold a poster of the January 11 Nature cover featuring "Twisted Vista", the latest science behind FRB 121102, January 10 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C.

"We estimate the magnetic field and gas density surrounding the blast source, and we can link them, for example, with a model involving a young magnetar - a neutron star with an especially large magnetic field - to the central engine that produces the bursts", Cordes said. This discovery suggests that the odd source is in the close vicinity of a massive black hole, or within a nebula of unprecedented power.

"We want a complete sample so that we can conduct our standard SETI analysis in search of modulation patterns or narrow-band signals - any kind of information-bearing signal emitted from their direction that we don't expect from nature", he said. Faraday rotation this strong has not been found anywhere else in the Universe, though the conditions near the black hole that lies at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy come close.

"We know of thirty sources of fast radio bursts, and this is the only one we've ever seen that repeats", senior author Jason Hessels, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam and ASTRON, said in an interview.

The first fast radio burst, Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was described in 2007.

The measurements confirm observations by another team of astronomers from the Netherlands, which detected the polarized bursts using the William E. Gordon Telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The team plans a few more observations of FRB 121102 before moving on to other FRB sources. The team ultimately captured and analyzed 16 bursts.

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The short bursts, which range from 30 microseconds to 9 milliseconds in duration, indicate that the source could be as small as 10 kilometers across - the typical size of a neutron star. This property occurs because all light waves, including radio waves, can ripple up and down, left and right, or at any angle in between. The twisting was also rapidly changing, declining by 10 percent across a roughly half-year period.

FRB 121102 is the only one they've witnessed a couple of times, and they're still not certain whether that's due to a fluke of timing or something more fundamental.

Using two of the world's largest radio telescopes, an global team of astronomers has gained new insights into the extreme home of a mysterious source of cosmic radio bursts. "Maybe that extreme environment includes structures that can boost the brightnesses of the bursts like a magnifying lens".

In studying these emissions, the researchers focused on a feature of radio waves known as polarization. They're excited! And they're poised to answer more fundamental questions about fast radio bursts. FRB 121102 is located in a star-forming region of a dwarf galaxy found about 3 billion light-years from Earth, Hessels said. Such dwarfs are rich in pristine gas scarcely altered since the universe sprang into being during the big bang almost 14 billion years ago-and that gas tends to form especially massive and short-lived stars, which end their lives by exploding with astonishing violence as "superluminous supernovae".

The behavior of this polarized light allows them to probe the source's environment in a new way and to "peer into the lair" of the mysterious burster. A magnetar so young should be spinning extremely fast, perhaps once per millisecond, but will rapidly lose rotational speed as its whirling magnetic field dumps vast amounts of energy into a surrounding shell of expanding plasma left over from the supernova that birthed it.

The signals appear to be coming from somewhere with very strong and very rare magnetic fields.

The persistent radio source coming from somewhere nearby the FRB, they add, is consistent with that "of a low-luminosity, accreting massive black hole".

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw the data". If instead its surroundings continue displaying wild magnetic oscillations, that could be better evidence for something more like the black-hole scenario. This resulted in speculation that they might be attempted contact from extraterrestrials. "This is a "nature versus nurture" problem", he says. "Both possibilities remain tantalizingly open". Since then, dozens of FRBs have been discovered.


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