The phenomenon of fast radio bursts, once shrouded in mystery, might now have a connection to our understanding of earthquakes.
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) have long intrigued astronomers. While invisible to our naked eyes, these intense energy bursts illuminate the cosmos for radio telescopes, prompting questions about their origins. Previously, parallels had been drawn between the energy distributions of recurring FRBs, earthquakes, and solar flares. However, researchers from the University of Tokyo have delved deeper, highlighting significant likenesses between FRBs and earthquakes, thereby reinforcing the concept that FRBs might be the result of “starquakes” on neutron stars.
From Deep Space to Earth’s Tremors
Fast radio bursts, first identified in 2007, are intense and brief flashes seen in radio waves. Even though each burst’s duration is incredibly short, they can traverse billions of light years. Despite their mystery, experts estimate that a staggering 10,000 FRBs could occur daily if we could monitor the entire sky. Although a handful of theories about the origins of FRBs have emerged, the prevailing notion is that they are emitted by neutron stars—formed when supergiant stars collapse.
Professor Tomonori Totani from the Department of Astronomy at the Graduate School of Science remarked, “It was theoretically considered that the surface of a magnetar could be experiencing a starquake, an energy release similar to earthquakes on Earth.” Harnessing recent observational breakthroughs that detected numerous FRBs, the team compared FRB datasets with earthquake and solar flare data.
A Paradigm Shift in Understanding
While previous FRB analysis concentrated primarily on intervals between consecutive bursts, Totani, alongside co-author Yuya Tsuzuki, identified the limitation of solely focusing on this parameter. Their analysis ventured into a two-dimensional space, correlating the emission energy and time of almost 7,000 bursts from three distinct FRB sources. When they juxtaposed their findings with earthquake and solar flare data, an unexpected pattern emerged.
Totani elaborated on their findings, saying, “The results show notable similarities between FRBs and earthquakes in the following ways: First, the probability of an aftershock occurring for a single event is 10–50%; second, the aftershock occurrence rate decreases with time, as a power of time; third, the aftershock rate is always constant even if the FRB-earthquake activity (mean rate) changes significantly; and fourth, there is no correlation between the energies of the main shock and its aftershock.”
A Glimpse into Earth’s and Stars’ Inner Workings
These observations suggest the existence of a solid crust on neutron stars, where starquakes release tremendous energy, manifesting as FRBs to our instruments. Totani highlighted the broader implications of this study, stating that understanding starquakes on these ultradense stars might offer “new insights into earthquakes” and enhance our comprehension of the universe’s densest regions, reshaping our grasp of nuclear physics.
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