Astronomers have fresh insight on a mysterious source of recurring radio pulses from space.
Fast radio bursts (FRB) are one of the most persistent puzzles in astronomy. While usually short-lived, one source in the sky was sending out repeated flashes.
Now, a team says the strange emission could be caused by a dead star with an exceptionally powerful magnetic field.
Details were reported here at the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting.
The first FRB was discovered in 2007, in archived data from the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Astronomers were searching for new examples of magnetised neutron stars called pulsars, but found a new phenomenon – a radio burst from 2001.
Since then, 18 FRBs – also referred to as “flashes” or “sizzles” – have been found in total.
The mystery surrounding their nature has spawned a variety of different possible explanations, from black holes to extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Only one of these sources of radio energy has erupted more than once – a so-called burster catalogued as FRB 121102. This FRB has sent out around 150 flashes since its discovery in 2012.
Now, in the journal Nature, a team of scientists explains how the emission might come from a neutron star, perhaps one near a black hole or one embedded in a nebula.
Read More: BBC News