Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs are very short and extremely high radio energy bursts that we detect on our telescopes here on Earth. They typically last only a few milliseconds and are generally broadband (meaning they cover a range of frequencies). The explosion is usually a single peak of energy, which is stable and constant over its short duration.
FRBs, in other words, are some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astronomy. Scientists still do not know where they come from, or what a heavenly event could be so dramatic but common enough to produce thousands of explosions every day.
But now scientists think they are closer to responding.
At the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week, scientists at a powerful new Canadian telescope have announced the detection of 13 new fast radio radars (FRBs) in just two months of observations. One of the newly detected bursts is a rare "repeater" – scientists have seen six flashes coming from the same spot in the sky, which they hope will make it easier to determine the source of the signal. Only one other repetitive FRB was found.
The repeater, as it is called, and its 12 counterparts came from a region of space about 1.5 billion light-years away, scientists reported. All 13 new bursts have the lowest radio frequency ever detected, but they have also been brighter than the fastest radio bursts, prompting the team to think that low frequency has something to do with the source environment.
Shriharsh Tendulkar of McGill University said, "These things are coming to us from the other side of the universe and we really do not know anything about them. Is not that exciting?
Radio waves become distorted as they travel through space and can disperse or be absorbed by gas and plasma. The team, therefore, thinks that all 13 blasts probably originated from dense and turbulent regions within their host galaxies, particularly areas with many violent acts, such as the remains of supernovae near dense or near black holes.
In addition, scientists have noted that the repeated explosion has the same structure as the only other repeater ever found.
Tendulkar said, "The fact that we see these multiple structures in the explosion was very similar to the first repeated rapid radio blast. This is very unusual. Now there is this tempting evidence that the structures of these explosions are seen only in repeaters. This suggests that if more faster radio bursts are found with this structure, they may be the prime candidates for repeaters. "
"We are trying to build clues and trying to understand whether repeated rapid radio blasts and rapid radio bursts are different populations. Do they come from different objects? Or are they related in some way to the other? We're trying to figure out these things, so that's really exciting. "
When CHIME detected these new blasts, it was only working at a fraction of its capacity, and the team is excited to see how many more will appear in their data now that the instrument is fully operational.
Shami Chatterjee, senior researcher at the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, said: "The discovery of CHIME points to enormous potential. I'm intensely curious [fast radio bursts] they are sitting now. They must have tens or hundreds.
The study was published in the journal Nature.