Astronomers Detect Unusual Radio Burst From Deep Space


CalTech astronomers have detected a bizarre fast radio burst (FRB) from a distant region of deep space. FRBs are the latest mystery of the cosmos that star watchers have pondered in recent years.

The latest discovery by CalTech observers is a pattern named FRB 20200120E. This burst surprised astronomers due to its point of origin: an ancient, distant star cluster in the faraway Bode’s Galaxy.

The star responsible for the burst is likely one of the celestial bodies that comprise Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. This point of origin is unusual, astronomers say, because many scientists assumed FRBs were caused by magnetars. The discovery was made possible by new observational technology that researchers have employed to gather data regarding distant galaxies.

What Are Magnetars?

Magnetars are an unusual natural phenomenon, stars with extremely strong magnetic fields. They’re neutron stars that normally appear in newer galaxies, not ancient clusters like Bode’s Galaxy.

“Thus, if FRB 20200120E represents an active magnetar, it must have formed through means that we have yet to witness,” says CalTech researcher Vikram Ravi. Ravi and his team published their findings in a recent edition of the scientific journal Nature, where the team puts forth their hypothesis regarding the FRB’s origin. 

Other Hypotheses

Other astronomers have proposed their own theories regarding the unusual radio transmissions. Franz Kirsten of the Chalmers University of Technology headed a team that submitted an alternative hypothesis to Nature, arguing that the FRB might originate from a star that has transformed into a magnetar, rather than starting its life as a neutron star. 

“We propose instead that FRB 20200120E originates from a highly magnetized neutron star formed either through the accretion-induced collapse of a white dwarf or the merger of compact stars in a binary system,” the team writes. 

A New Way for Magnetars To Form?

In short, the team proposes that a white dwarf star orbiting another celestial body in a binary orbit might have absorbed its partner after the two collided. This could have created a magnetar through a previously-unknown method of star genesis, challenging the commonly accepted method for such bodies’ formation. 

The research teams will need to conduct further observation to reach a consensus. Either way, the presence of the FRB from Bode’s Galaxy means that the vast cosmos still hold innumerable mysteries for humans to uncover. Researchers remark that we know so little about the observable universe that it’s impossible to even guess at the natural phenomena we haven’t witnessed yet.