Discovery of second mysterious radio signal from space raises more questions

The paper said the source of FRB 20190520B was “co-located with a compact, persistent radio source and associated with a dwarf host galaxy of high specific-star-formation”.

fast radio burst
The researchers published their findings in a paper in Nature. (US National Science Foundation)

The detection of the Fast Radio Burst, termed FRB 20190520B, has raised important questions about the source and origin of these signals.

The researchers published their findings in a paper in Nature. The paper said the source of FRB 20190520B was “co-located with a compact, persistent radio source and associated with a dwarf host galaxy of high specific-star-formation”. The researchers believe the signal to be close to another unknown object, emitting a weaker signal. This combination has been observed in only one Fast Radio Burst.

Fast Radio Bursts are brief but intense flashes of radio frequency emissions that typically last milliseconds. These send repeat radio waves multiple times. However, scientists are still to understand the phenomenon first discovered in 2007. Space.com reported that the discovery was credited to graduate student David Narkevic and his supervisor Duncan Lorimer.

The FRB 20190520B was detected using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope in Guizhou, China, in May 2019. Scientists then conducted monthly observations and detected 75 bursts between April and September 2020. The researchers localised FRB 20190520B using the US National Science Foundation’s Karl G Jansky Very Large Array, a radio astronomy observatory in central New Mexico. The researchers also observed that the object constantly emitted weaker radio waves between bursts.

The characteristics make this burst look a lot like the first Fast Radio Burst whose position was determined in 2016, Casey Law of Caltech, one of the co-authors, said in a statement to the National Science Foundation.

The 2016 object is called FRB 121102 and the properties are similar to FRB20190520B. The earlier Fast Radio Burst is also close to a persistent radio source.

The researchers theorised that the FRB 190520 might be a “newborn” — meaning it is “still surrounded by dense material ejected by the supernova explosion that left behind the neutron star”.

The researchers have theorised that once the material dissipated, the burst signals would also decline. But researchers said some questions still needed to be answered. 

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