Aug 28, 2021

New observations challenge popular radio burst model

Posted by in category: space

Strange behavior caught by two radio observatories may send theorists back to the drawing board.

Fourteen years ago, the first fast radio burst (FRB) was discovered. By now, many hundreds of these energetic, millisecond-duration bursts from deep space have been detected (most of them by the CHIME radio observatory in British Columbia, Canada), but astronomers still struggle to explain their enigmatic properties. A new publication in this week’s Nature “adds a new piece to the puzzle,” says Victoria Kaspi (McGill University, Canada). “In this field of research, surprising twists are almost as common as new results.”

Most astronomers agree that FRBs are probably explosions on the surfaces of highly magnetized neutron stars (so-called magnetars). But it’s unclear why most FRBs appear to be one-off events, while others flare repeatedly. In some cases, these repeating bursts show signs of periodicity, and scientists had come up with an attractive model to explain this behavior, involving stellar winds in binary systems.

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