UBC scientists record second repeating radio burst from outside our galaxy

Canada’s CHIME is the world’s most powerful radio telescope

For only the second time ever, scientists say they have detected a mysterious repeating radio signal from distant space, with its origin remaining unknown.

From the new bursts detected by the Canadian astronomers, one repeated six times - apparently from the same location.

A fast radio burst lasts only a few milliseconds; due to both the very brief appearance and the inability to predict where they will happen, it has proven very hard for astronomers to study the FRBs.

Stairs said that their next steps will be to gain a better understanding of the FRBs' environments and what causes them.

The CHIME researchers are working with an array of antennas in central New Mexico to pin down the galaxy to which the second repeater belongs.

Since their discovery more than a decade ago, 60-plus bursts, each named for its date of detection, have been observed by five telescopes worldwide.

"Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB", said a Chime astrophysicist, Dr Ingrid Stairs, from the University of British Columbia.

"At the end of a year we may have found 1,000 more bursts".

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It not yet clear when the results would be ready, he said, adding: "It will not be possible to announce the results tomorrow". More will deploy as needed to Gabon, Congo or neighboring Republic of Congo, he wrote.

Most of the fast radio bursts picked up by telescopes in the last decade or so are seen once then disappear.

This work was published today (Jan 9) in a set of papers in Nature. Since CHIME is sensitive to lower frequencies of radiation than past telescopes, it discovered that fast radio bursts appear at lower frequencies than we had previously known.

As technology improves and instruments used to study the cosmos become more and more advanced, we're answering a lot of questions about our place in the universe, but we're also coming up with entirely new ones.

FRB's were first detected accidentally in 2007, when a burst signal was spotted in radio astronomy data collected in 2001. "There are some models where intrinsically the source can't produce anything below a certain frequency", said Arun Naidu of McGill University in Canada, who was part of the team that detected the signal. While most other FRBs detected were recorded at between 1400 megahertz (MHz) and 2000 MHz, these bursts were found at 400-800 MHz, far lower than ever before.

The CHIME team's recent results settles these doubts, with the majority of the 13 bursts being recorded well down to the lowest frequencies in CHIME's range. Scientists are still debating whether repeating FRBs come from the same source as the one-time flashes, or instead represent a distinct type of event.

CHIME scans the entire Northern Hemisphere every day, hopping from one spot to the next every 15 minutes. Launched in 2017, the project is a collaboration of Canadian scientists from the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the National Research Council of Canada.

Image: The telescope detected the signals over a three week period during the summer.

"It just seems completely inconceivable that there could be that many different alien civilisations all deciding to produce the same kind of signal in the same way - that just seems highly improbable". That tells us something about the environments and the sources.

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