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Astronomers intercept mysterious repeating radio signals from space

12 January 2019

"We haven't solved the problem, but it's several more pieces in the puzzle", says Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member from the National Research Council of Canada. Other telescopes hunting for the elusive FRBs have not found any of the radio bursts at those lower wavelengths so far.

The highly unusual repeating signal was among 13 fast radio bursts - known as FRBs - and came from the same source, about 1.5 billion light years away.

CHIME is a fixed radio telescope that covers more area than a football field and passively scans the skies 24/7 as Earth rotates. Interestingly, some the signals follow a repeating pattern, per Science News, so they don't appear to be random in nature.

The pre-commissioning phase meant that the telescope wasn't running at its fullest capacity.

In all the researchers spotted some 13 of the bursts in just a three week period, offering a vast new trove of data for the scientists hunting for their source.

This repeating FRB is one of thirteen (the rest are single bursts) announced today by scientists.

The novel radio telescope features no moving parts. Instead it uses digital signal processing to "point" the telescope and reconstruct where the radio waves are coming from.

A globuler cluster of stars captured by the Hubble telescope.

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The discovery is a sign that there could be even more repeating FRBs out there waiting to be found - and maybe even an answer to the mystery of their source.

Like the previous repeater, detected in 2012, CHIME's FRB rules out the possibility that the bursts are coming from "cataclysmic events".

The fast radio bursts, named FRBs, were discovered by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) team in British Columbia, Canada.

The first FRB was detected by astronomers in 2007.

Loeb said we now know of two repeaters out of about 60 known sources, which "implies that the repeater population is not negligible but also represents a small minority, less than a tenth, of the entire population of FRB sources". CHIME is created to detect FRBs within the 400 to 800 MHz range. According to two new papers published on January 9, 2019, in the journal Nature, scientists working at CHIME have detected 13 new FRBs in just a two-month span. One other detail that needs to be considered would be that those bursts were collected at the lowest frequencies yet (400MHz to 800MHz). "Scattering" was detected in the fast radio bursts, which is a phenomenon that helps determine more about the environment surrounding the origin.

The amount of scattering observed by CHIME suggests these flares originate in powerful astrophysical objects, likely to be in locations with "special characteristics".

"That's huge", said Shriharsh Tendulka, an astronomer at McGill University and a member of the CHIME team.

Astronomers intercept mysterious repeating radio signals from space