Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are one of the most fascinating astronomical mysteries. In a matter of a few milliseconds, powerful bursts of radio waves wash over us from deep space. Only discovered in the last decade, there is still so much we don't know about them. But we may have just been given the chance to study one in relatively close detail, as it looks like the first one emanating from within our galaxy has just been discovered.
Members of the CHIME collaboration, responsible for the detection of many other FRBs, have reported the observations of a radio signal on April 28, 2020, coming from the direction of an object in our own galaxy. This would be the first confirmation of an FRB coming from within the Milky Way.
The alleged source of this object is a known galactic magnetar, SGR 1935+2154, located 30,000 light-years from us. A magnetar is a neutron star with an incredible magnetic field, a characteristic considered crucial in the production of the FRBs, as in the case on the event FRB 121102, the first one we traced back to where it came from.
The team announced the detection on The Astronomer’s Telegram, and it was quickly followed up by many different observatories around the world, who also detected it. The STARE2 radio feed confirmed the detection of the FRB in their own report also on The Astronomer’s Telegram.
Interestingly, the second team made a comparison with FRB 180916, the closest observed FRB yet at about 486 million light-years. Assuming that this new signal is truly coming from the Milky Way’s magnetar then if we were to move 486 million light-years away we should still be able to detect it. This suggests that extragalactic magnetars could be a source of FRBs.
But it was not just radio waves that were observed. A related X-ray flare from SGR 1935+2154 was detected by several telescopes, and the magnetar was undergoing a phase of enhanced X-ray brightness, strengthening the link between the two events. The event has also been documented by the IceCube neutrino observatory and the Very Large Array.
The finding and the flurry of observations from all over the world are certainly exciting, but it is yet to be confirmed. Hopefully, we’ll know more about this event and its possible source soon.
It's unclear what powers FRBs. Both magnetars and supernovae have been suggested as culprits. It's also possible that not all FRBs are the same, as astronomers have detected both one-off bursts as well as FRBs with repeating signals. This detection might go a long way in helping us to understand their true nature.
[H/T: New Scientist]