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Twisted magnetic fields engulf mysterious FRB signals

FRB signal explosion in deep space (illustration)

In the vast cosmic theater, Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) command a spectacular performance. These intriguing phenomena, known for their brilliant millisecond-duration explosions in radio bands, are among the most luminous spectacles the universe has to offer. Their mysterious origins, however, continue to pose intriguing puzzles for both astronomers and physicists, making the study of FRBs a fascinating frontier in our quest to understand the cosmos.

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are the universe’s most dazzling millisecond-long radio band explosions. However, their mysterious origin has long puzzled astronomers and physicists alike. The Commensal Radio Astronomy FAST Survey (CRAFTS) under the Five-hundred-meter Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) project has unveiled the first-ever persistent repeating FRB, labeled as FRB 20190520B. This discovery has now offered promising leads to the enigmatic origin of FRB signals.

FRB Signals: Multinational Investigation Unearths Groundbreaking Findings

Leading an international team, Dr. LI Di from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ National Astronomical Observatories (NAOC) initiated a detailed study of FRB 20190520B. The team discovered an unusual field reversal around this unceasingly active source using the Parkes telescope in Australia and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in the United States.

Results from this comprehensive investigation, which spanned three continents, were published in Science on May 11.

A Unique Fast Radio Burst Piques Scientific Interest

What sets FRB 20190520B apart from other FRBs is its consistency. It produces bursts detectable by one or more telescopes each time it’s observed. This reliability makes it a perfect candidate for comprehensive multiband follow-up studies.

Dr. DAI Shi from Western Sydney University, project PI for FRB 20190520B at Parkes, remarked, “The Parkes telescope detected a total of 113 bursts from FRB 20190520B, surpassing the total number of fast radio bursts previously discovered at Parkes. This accentuates the importance of FRB 20190520B.”

Decoding The Mysteries of The Universe through FRB signals

Dr. FENG Yi, a former NAOC Ph.D. graduate now at Zhejiang Laboratory, and Ms. Anna-Thomas from West Virginia University (WVU) conducted a combined analysis of data from GBT and Parkes. They determined its polarization properties and uncovered a dramatic change in the Faraday rotation measure (RM), a key indicator of magnetic fields and electron density.

“The integral product of magnetic field and electron density can approximate the RM. Either factor can cause a change in RM. Still, a significant change has to arise from the reversal of magnetic fields, as the electron density cannot go negative,” explained Dr. LI Di, the study’s corresponding author.

Unraveling Cosmic Explosions

The observed reversal could result from propagation through a chaotic, magnetized plasma screen between 10-5 to 100 parsecs from the FRB source. According to Prof. YANG Yuanpei from Yunnan University, a study co-author, “The turbulent components of the magnetic field around repeating fast radio bursts may be as chaotic as a ball of wool.”

The most plausible explanation for such a chaotic environment includes the signal passing through a halo of a companion, such as a black hole or a massive star with winds. Understanding these drastic changes in the magnetized environment around the FRB is a significant stride toward comprehending the origin of these cosmic explosions.

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