Fast radio bursts have mystified scientists for a very long time -- but they may have cracked the code.
Bizarre radio flashes from deep space have been puzzling scientists for a long time, appearing for just a split second and shining brighter than the sun.
Astrophysicists have had difficulty explaining this phenomenon, which can be seen thousands of times each day for just a millisecond as radio waves seem to rattle throughout the universe, but new studies indicate that these bursts are coming from youthful stellar outbursts in galaxies far, far away, according to a Scientific American report.
They’re called fast radio bursts (FRBs), and they were first discovered in 2007 by scientists at West Virginia University using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. They found that radio signals were “smeared out” due to arriving a fraction of a second before low-frequenecy signals, indicating that it has passed through plasma deep in space. The researchers were able to make an estimate of how far away the FRBs could have come from, and arrived at a few billion light-years away.
If this is true, FRBs could be a fascinating chance for astronomers to measure huge cosmological distances and allow scientists to look even deeper into space. So since then, astronomers have been looking into this phenomenon, and have found that FRBs are far beyond our own Milky Way galaxy and are the result of an energy release that represents and hour or even a year’s worth of the Sun’s total energy output, appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye.
But what was mystifying scientists was what was actually causing these strange events. Theories abounded, but answers were few. However, scientists are now settling on an explanation that appears to make the most sense: in a paper published in the journal Nature, scientists at the University of British Columbia are guessing that these FRBs would be surrounded by a region with a magnetic field and dense gas, similar to what you would find in a supernova remnant or a star-forming nebula, or the center of a galaxy itself.
So what we could be seeing is the emissions of incredible stellar events long, long ago and far, far away.