Hearing our universe: Fast radio bursts coming from space

Hearing our universe: Fast radio bursts coming from space


While probably not intelligent life, a series of "fast radio bursts" coming at regular intervals from across the universe are a sign that space is talking to us.

FRBs, as the waves are known, last about a millisecond each and had previously been found to repeat, sometimes sporadically or in clusters, but the observations made by researchers with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment/Fast Radio Burst Project between September 2018 and October 2019 were different. They detected a pattern of bursts occurring once or twice per hour and repeating every 16.35 days before going silent for 12 days.

"The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object," the CHIME researchers wrote in their study.

Discovering the cause of these bursts 500,000 miles from Earth, made easier to study thanks to the newly discovered pattern, could uncover important things about the nature of the stars believed to be emitting them and the universe itself, scientists say.

In the paper about the discovery, the researchers offer some possible causes, including the orbital motion of a star or an object that acts as a companion in the outskirts of the galaxy. Another paper, whose authors consulted with those who found the pattern, theorizes that the cause could be the interaction of a dense neutron star, the smallest in the universe, and an early OB-type star binary system, which are short-lived, hot and massive.

One CHIME researcher, Bryan Gaensler, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, considers the discovery and CHIME's ongoing work on it important.

"In 25 years of astronomy research, this is unquestionably the most exciting project I've ever worked on," he said.

Space is talking to us. We should celebrate that scientists are listening and await their explanations with universal wonder.

This editorial represents the view of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board.

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