Astronomers have managed to trace a mysterious radio signal to a dead star just within our Milky Way Galaxy in a revealing discovery. The find could help us figure out the nature of Fast Radio Bursts, a series of enigmatic alien signals coming from different places in the universe, including our galaxy.
Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are extremely powerful pulses of radio waves that don’t last very long, a few milliseconds perhaps, but produce an incredible amount of energy equivalent to millions of Suns.
Astronomers have recently spotted a millisecond-long burst of radiation emitted by a dead star within the Milky Way Galaxy. The Magnetar—a kind of star with a very powerful magnetic field—is located around 14,000 light-years from Earth.
This stellar remnant could help astronomers get to the bottom of Fast Radio Bursts, one of the universe’s most enigmatic phenomena.
FRBs are found to typically originate in distant regions in space, outside of our Milky Way Galaxy. Although their exact origins remain a mystery to astronomers, some experts argue that the brief but potent energy bursts are the result of cosmic explosions, colliding black holes, and even artificial signals sent out by advanced alien civilizations.
The FRB in question was picked up by astronomers in April and is the first one detected to date, to originate inside our own galaxy. Measurements and calculations have allowed astronomers to tace to the origin of the FRB to a magnetar dubbed SGR 1935+2154, raising additional questions about Fast Radio Bursts.
And according to astrophysicist Dr.Sandro Mereghetti of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, SGR 1935+2154 offers us an unprecedented observational connection between magnetars and Fast Radio Bursts.
“It truly is a major discovery, and helps to bring the origin of these mysterious phenomena into focus,” Mereghetti explained.
Given that FRBs last no more than the blink of an eye, they are extremely difficult to study.
To date, astronomers have had luck in identifying more than one hundred FRBs. Of those, only a few handfuls are found to repeat, and even fewer have a predictable pattern. These are the main reasons why experts have had a difficult time understanding them, ever since the first FRB was spotted in 2007.
However, the new study had experts analyze data gathered from the INTEGRAL satellite from the European Space Agency. It revealed that the first detected coming from the Magnetar was much weaker than the radio bursts detected from outside the Milky Way.
INTEGRAL stands for INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory, and it was designed to spy on gamma rays.
What scientists found in the recent study hints at magnetars being responsible for all FRBs. However, the study is far from conclusive.
Magnetars have such powerful magnetic fields that are able to warp the star’s shape causing eruptions of massive bursts of radiation. This phenomenon is called a starquake, and only a handful of starquakes have been posted by experts. Even lesser starquakes have been found to emit radio waves.
Back in April, when scientists spotted the FRB, some experts had suggested it originated from SGR 1935+2154, which the new study has now confirmed.
Despite refreshing evidence connecting magnetars to FRBs, there are great chances that other cosmic phenomena are responsible for fast radio bursts.
Whether FRBs are caused by magnetars such as SGR 1935+2154, merging black holes, or something entirely different like aliens remains to be seen. Whatever the case, discoveries such as this certainly help us better understand the universe we live in.