Powerful bursts of energy that repeat like heartbeats have been detected billions of light years away from Earth

A mysterious object billions of light years from Earth releases powerful bursts of energy in a pattern similar to a heartbeat.

A team of astronomers, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have detected what are officially known as fast radio bursts (FRB), intense radio waves that typically last for a few milliseconds.

However, the newly discovered FRB lasts for up to three seconds – about 1,000 times longer than average.

The signal, named FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lived FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date.

Although the researchers account for source-related items, they suspect that the signal originates from a radio pulsar or magnetar, both of which are types of neutron stars — the very dense, fast-spinning cores of giant stars.

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FRB 20191221A was detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Experiment (CHIME) telescope (pictured).  This FRB lasts up to three seconds - about 1,000 times longer than average

FRB 20191221A was detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Experiment (CHIME) telescope (pictured). This FRB lasts up to three seconds – about 1,000 times longer than average

The first FRB was discovered in 2007, sparking a search to find the source and hopefully revealing secrets about intergalactic space by studying the signal’s path.

‘There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals,’ said Danielle Micheli, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, in a statement.

Examples we know of in our galaxy are radio and magnetic pulsars, which rotate and emit a beacon-like beam.

“And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or a pulsar on doping.”

The signal, named FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lived FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date (stored image)

The signal, named FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lived FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date (stored image)

Fast radio bursts – described as “brief and mysterious beacons” – have been observed in various and distant parts of the universe, as well as in our galaxy.

Their origins are unknown and their appearance is unpredictable.

FRB 20191221A was detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Experiment (CHIME) telescope.

CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment), located in British Columbia, Canada, has four 328-foot-long cylinders that are U-shaped, allowing it to detect signals from a time when the universe was between six and 11 billion years old.

This telescope has nearly quadrupled the number of FRBs detected so far.

The pattern of radio bursts of FRB 20191221A was found to be similar to emissions from radio and magnetic pulsars in our galaxy.

Radio pulsars are neutron stars that emit beams of radio waves, appearing to pulsate as the star rotates, while magnetars produce similar emission due to their intense magnetic fields.

The main difference between the new signal and radio emissions from pulsars and magnetospheres in the galaxy is that FRB 20191221A appears to be a million times brighter.

The bright flashes could come from a distant radio pulsar or magnetar that is usually less bright as it rotates, and for some unknown reason unleashed a train of brilliant explosions, Micheli said, “in a rare three-second window CHIME was well positioned to capture,” he completed .

“CHIME has now detected many FRBs with different characteristics,” said Micheli.

We have seen some live inside very turbulent clouds, while others appear to be in clean environments.

“From the characteristics of this new signal, we can say that around this source, there is a cloud of plasma that must be very turbulent.”

Astronomers hope to catch additional bursts of periodic FRB 20191221A, which could help narrow down the signal source and learn more about neutron stars.

“This discovery raises the question of what could be causing this extreme signal that we haven’t seen before, and how we can use this signal to study the universe,” Micheli said.

Future telescopes promise to detect thousands of FRBs per month, at which point we may find more of these periodic signals.

What is a telescope?

Image provided by the Canadian Collaboration for the Hydrogen Density Mapping Experiment shows the CHIME Radio Telescope

Image provided by the Canadian Collaboration for the Hydrogen Density Mapping Experiment shows the CHIME Radio Telescope

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime) is a radio telescope in Canada.

Funding £12.2 million ($16 million), CHIME is located in the mountains of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton.

It contains four 100 meters (328 feet) long cylinders that are U-shaped, allowing it to detect signals from a time when the universe was between 6 and 11 billion years old.

With their U-shaped cylinders made of metal mesh, experts have compared them to half-pipes used by skaters and snowboarders.

CHIME is a fixed assembly, with no moving parts. The telescope receives radio signals every day from half of the sky as the Earth rotates.

While most radio astronomy is done by rotating a large dish to focus light from different parts of the sky, CHIME is staring at the sky motionless.

It focuses on incoming signals using a link – a powerful digital signal processor that can work through massive amounts of data, at a rate of about 7 terabytes per second, which is equivalent to a small percentage of the world’s Internet traffic.

“It is digital signal processing that makes CHIME able to reconstruct and ‘look’ in thousands of directions simultaneously,” said Kiyoshi Masui, associate professor of physics at MIT.

“This is what helps us detect FRBs a thousand times more than a conventional telescope.”

Its unique design, combined with advanced computing power, will serve as a “time machine” to delve deeper into the history of the universe.

CHIME collects radio waves with wavelengths between 37 and 75 cm.

Most of these signals come from the Milky Way, but some began their journey billions of years ago.

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