Published: Thu, January 10, 2019
Sci-tech | By April Francis

'Repeating' radio waves from deep space baffle scientists

'Repeating' radio waves from deep space baffle scientists

A team of scientists behind a telescope located in BC's Okanagan Valley have found the second repeating fast radio burst (FRB) ever recorded, which they said provides new clues about the puzzling pulses of radio energy from far outside our own galaxy.

A telescope in Canada picked up mysterious signals emanating from a distant galaxy.

The findings were presented during a meeting held by the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday. It was originally created to delve into the mystery surrounding dark matter by mapping the distribution of interstellar hydrogen, but it also turns out to be well-suited to take on the mystery surrounding fast radio bursts. Seeing two repeating signals probably means that there exists - and that humanity will probably find - a "substantial population" of repeating signals, the researchers write in one of the two papers published in Nature.

'And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles - where they're from and what causes them'.

CHIME, which is short for Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, is a type of interferometric radio telescope featuring half-cylinder dishes that observe the same section of sky every day.

Since FRBs occur so quickly, studying them and identifying the source is hard.

The fast radio bursts suggest there could be more out there, researchers say.

One hypothesis is that powerful astrophysical phenomena are causing them.

Some scientists have speculated that the sources of FRBs might be rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields, or even super-advanced radio beacons operated by extraterrestrial civilizations.

The telescope only got up and running a year ago, detecting 13 of the radio bursts nearly immediately, including the repeater. "By detecting and characterising fast radio bursts at different frequencies, we can better understand which theories work and which do not".

The FRBs show various temporal scattering behaviours, with the majority significantly scattered, and some apparently unscattered to within measurement uncertainty even at our lowest frequencies.

Most previously detected FRBs have had frequencies of around 1,400 megahertz (MHz), but the new ones fell within a range below 800 MHz. Some scientists had anxious that the range of frequencies it can pick up would be too low for it to receive the FRBs - but it found far more than expected, and scientists expect it to identify even more.

The CHIME/FRB Collaboration includes scientists from UBC and McGill as well as the University of Toronto, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the National Research Council of Canada.

"We have discovered a second repeater and its properties are very similar to the first repeater".

CHIME detected 13 FRBs in July and August, according to Nature, a British scientific journal.

To which he added: "CHIME is the most prolific FRB hunter in the world and we are looking forward to sharing new results in the upcoming months".

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