Fast radio bursts are short-lived radio wave emissions that have been perplexing scientists for years. They disappear as quickly as they appear, making them difficult to study. Just what are they, exactly?
Starbursts or aliens?
These radio bursts typically originate in deep space, which has led scientists to hypothesize that they may come from the collision of distant stars. Some enthusiasts believe the emissions might be rogue transmissions from alien civilizations. Either way, until very recently, all measured fast radio bursts have been billions of light-years away from our galaxy.
A new collection of fast radio bursts were recently detected from a location about 100 million light-years away, which is much closer than any other SRBs recorded to-date.
Of the nineteen nearby SRBs picked up by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, one of them is particularly intriguing. The signal appeared to originate from a galaxy within the constellation Auriga, about 2.4 billion light-years away.
This neighboring galaxy has a similar rate of star formation to our own and comparable oxygen content. What perplexes astronomers is that the galaxy doesn’t fit the norm for known short radio burst-emitting galaxies.
Breaking The Mold
Galaxies that are known to emit short radio bursts all seem to have one thing in common: Continuous radio emissions. The source galaxy in Auriga, however, does not emit a continuous stream of radio signals, leaving scientists scratching their heads. The nonconforming source has brought into question what we know about deep-space radio sources and broadened our possible search horizons in the future.
Studying short radio bursts help us to learn more about the universe around us. By analyzing the wavelengths of each burst, scientists can learn about the materials each burst passed through on its way to us, and paint a more detailed 3D picture of that swatch of the universe.