Astronomers just doubled the number of known repeating 'fast radio bursts'

The record haul of 25 new, repeating FRBs could help to finally uncover the origins of the mysterious phenomena.
Chris Young
The CHIME array.
The CHIME array.


In one fell swoop, astronomers doubled the number of known repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) emanating from beyond our galaxy.

Fast radio bursts are mysterious fast repeating pulses of radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation that can outshine its source galaxy.

To date, several hundred FRBs have been found since the first discovery back in 2007. The nature of the phenomena is not fully understood by scientists, leading some to speculate they may originate from intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations.

Now, a team of astronomers has discovered 25 new, repeating FRBs, bringing the total number of the specific category of FRBs to 50.

Uncovering the mystery of FRBs

The team of researchers behind the new discoveries was led by astronomers from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME)/FRB Collaboration and the University of Toronto.

In a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, the scientists explained that their new discoveries may finally help to understand what causes these phenomena.

Though astronomers have discovered many FRBs in recent years, the majority of these have been non-repeating, meaning they only flashed once. Only a very small fraction have been repeating, leading scientists to question whether they might come from completely different sources.

Repeating FRBS have the potential to shed more light on the mysterious objects. This is because of the fact they are repeating, which means astronomers can carry out follow-up observations using different telescopes.

Shedding new light on dying stars

The team of scientists developed a new set of statistical tools that sorted data gathered by CHIME in 2019 and 2021, helping to determine whether specific objects were repeating FRBs or not.

"It is exciting that CHIME/FRB saw multiple flashes from the same locations, as this allows for the detailed investigation of their nature," study team member Adaeze Ibik, a University of Toronto Ph.D. student, explained in a press statement. "We were able to hone in on some of these repeating sources and have already identified likely associated galaxies for two of them."

Though the source of FRBs is a mystery, some believe they are produced by supernovae, meaning the team's findings may also help to better understand the final moments of dying stars.

"FRBs are likely produced by the leftovers from explosive stellar deaths. By studying repeating FRB sources in detail, we can study the environments that these explosions occur in and understand better the end stages of a star's life," Pleunis said. "We can also learn more about the material that's being expelled before and during the star's demise, which is then returned to the galaxies that the FRBs live in."

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