Astronomers discover what the cause of that mysterious cosmic radio bursts

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

This is not the 40-year-old fiction. This is a 3-billion-year-old true story.

Three thousand thousand thousand years ago, give or take a few million years, in a galaxy 3 thousand thousand thousand light-years away, give or take a few million light-years away, a fast radio burst from the center of a dwarf galaxy far outside the Milky way, generated as much energy as 500 million suns in milliseconds. And then it came out for an encore. And another one. It has done approximately 30 curtain calls in all.

This, according to Science Alert, was the astonishing discovery by astronomers from McGill University in Canada, and the Tohoku University in Japan. Working separately and with the images obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope and the 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, they believe that they have pinpointed the location of the repeat first fast radio burst in the history of the universe.


Fast radio bursts – FRBs – are hard to detect and even more difficult to determine, because they just milliseconds. But there is one, and so far, there is only one that has delivered about 30 signals from the same location, allowing the astronomers to focus on the place and the study of the close — or as well as everybody can study something that is 3 billion light-years away.

What they have found in studies that are awaiting peer review, is that FRB 121102, which was originally supposed to come from within our Milky way, is located in the place in a huge stellar nursery near the centre of a faint dwarf galaxy 3 billion light years away. That means what they see happened 3 billion years ago.

“Hubble’s handiwork turn off the galaxy’s visible diameter of about 20,000 light-years, one-sixth of that of the Milky way, Ken Croswell wrote in the New Scientist. “The stellar nursery is 6,200 light years from the milky way centre and covers 4,400 light years, much larger than any known in the Milky way.”

The scientists say that their discovery reinforced the theory that the largest object in the universe, a magnetar — a highly magnetic, 12-mile-wide neutron star that forms after a star collapses and sends regular radio pulses as it spins — was the cause of the repeated FRB.

But it also creates a new mystery: Why is this FRB to repeat it when the 22 others, be observed by the history not?

Let’s hope it won’t take 3 billion years to find out.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular