If you’re interested in catching a mysterious fast radio burst (FRB), it appears that the best option is to look at the constellation of Auriga (the charioteer) where 17 FRBs have been detected from the same source.
They were all emitted by a single source, and astronomers have reason to be excited as this is the only repeating FRB, discovered earlier this year. And this unique find, named FRB 121102, has deepened the mystery of these phenomena.
FRBs are an incredibly high-energy phenomenon. They are a quick flash of radio waves which last only for a few milliseconds. They were only discovered in 2011 and since then many explanations have been put forward to explain what remains without explanation, including outlandish and improbable alien communication systems.
Based on the intensity of the signal, scientists knew that the source must have had an extragalactic origin. And the speed at which they appear and disappear was an indication that they might have been a one-off event, maybe a collision between stars. But FRB 121102 has thrown a spanner in that line of thought.
“Our discovery of repeating bursts from FRB 121102 shows that for at least one source, the origin of the bursts cannot be cataclysmic, and further, must be able to repeat on short [less than 1 minute] timescales,” the authors wrote in the paper, published in the Astrophysical Journal.
“Whether FRB 121102 is a unique object in the currently known sample of FRBs, or all FRBs are capable of repeating, its characterization is extremely important to understanding fast extragalactic radio transients.”
The international team of researchers suspects that the source is a young neutron star embedded in a dense cloud from either a star-forming region (like the Pillars of Creation) or a supernova remnant.
There’s very little we know about the source. We can’t even establish a distance since we are yet to find the galaxy that is hosting the source using visible light. There have been less than 20 different sources of FRBs, so nobody is really sure what we are seeing.
But not knowing things in astronomy is half the fun. Scientists expect there are 10,000 FRBs emitted from every direction in the sky every day. We just need to have the telescope pointing in the right place at the right time. And finds like FRB121102 are the ones that could finally help solve this cosmic puzzle.