High-Energy Astrophysical Activity Remains a Mystery

A fast radio burst (FRB) is “a transient radio pulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds” from high-energy astrophysical activity of unknown origins. The first FRB was discovered in 2007 (by Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic) but there have been many since then—and one especially active burst pulsates every 16.35 days. Recently, another highly active FRB, the FRB 190520, was discovered by astronomers who believe it’s quite similar to another one found in 2016, the FRB 121102. Both share a “combination of repeating bursts and persistent radio emission between bursts, coming from a compact region.” While the discovery itself is interesting, it brings up important scientific questions—and some speculation. Some astronomers suggest “there may be either two different mechanisms producing FRBs or that the objects producing them may act differently at different stages of their evolution.” The sources of FRBs could be “the superdense neutron stars left over after a massive star explodes as a supernova or neutron stars with ultra-strong magnetic fields, called magnetars.” Perhaps the FRB 190520 is a “newborn,” which is “still surrounded by dense material ejected by the supernova explosion that left behind the neutron star,” and the frequency of bursts peters out with age. Sarah Burke-Spolaor of West Virginia University says, “The FRB field is moving very fast right now and new discoveries are coming out monthly. However, big questions still remain, and this object is giving us challenging clues about those questions.” Read more at SciTechDaily.

Image courtesy of Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF