Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are one of the most fascinating astronomical mysteries.
And it looks like we have just discovered the first one emanating from within our galaxy.
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. The first measurements were corroborated by other teams around the world.
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 new signal is similar to 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.
And an X-Ray flare
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.
Hopefully, we’ll know more about this event and its possible source soon.
It’s unclear what powers Fast Radio Bursts. 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. More space news on New Scientist.