Scientists find radio waves from space pulsing in 16-day pattern
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Scientists find radio waves from space pulsing in 16-day pattern

Discovery marks first time that these signals, known as Fast Radio Bursts, have been detected having a regular tempo and could help identify source

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Wire-mesh half pipe reflector of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope reflects feeds radio signals to the telescope’s antennas located at the focus line at the center of the half pipe (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Wire-mesh half pipe reflector of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope reflects feeds radio signals to the telescope’s antennas located at the focus line at the center of the half pipe (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Scientists in Canada have identified a powerful radio signal coming from some 500 million light years from Earth, which broadcasts in a 16-day cycle, the first time they have seen these kinds of signals in a repeating pattern.

These are the first Fast Radio Bursts to show periodicity, the researchers wrote in a paper published at the end of January and expressed hope this could help identify the source of these mysterious signals.

The FRB, labeled FRB 180916.J0158+65, transmits its burst of radio waves over four days and then goes silent for another twelve before starting the cycle again.

FRBs, first detected in 2007, are massive blasts of radio signals that have been detected coming from different directions of deep space. Not usually lasting for longer than a few milliseconds — and sometimes just fractions of that time — they are one of the most mysterious phenomenon in space research with astronomers unable to tell what is causing them, if they repeat, or are just a one-off event. Less than 200 have been detected.

Between September 2018 and October 2019 researchers at the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project watched a particular FRB and observed the pattern of its signals.

“We conclude that this is the first detected periodicity of any kind in an FRB source,” the researchers wrote in their report.

“The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object,” they said.

One possible explanation for the periodicity of the signals could be that the FRB source is orbiting a black hole which masks the bursts as the source moves around it. Another possibility is a powerful solar wind from a large star interfering with signals from an orbiting source.

Or it could just be that the source is producing periodic bursts.

Until now FRBs have appeared to be fairly random in nature and CHIME researchers hope that by studying FRB 180916.J0158+65 they can learn more about other FRBs and what causes their gigantic signals.

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