The so-called Fast Radio Burst 121102 (FRB) appears to follow a cyclical pattern of activity like clockwork. Arriving from deep space, the FRB blasts very frequent radio flares lasting a thousandth of a second toward our planet. Then, after 90 days of activity, the FRB falls silent for 67 days in a 157 day pattern that seems to repeat over and over.
Scientists have so far been unable to determine how these radio bursts are created or why they are so accurately repetitive.
The mystery has challenged the scientific community since 2007 when the very first FRB was accidentally discovered in a dataset.
And with no agreed-upon origin theory, some scientists have hinted at an extraterrestrial source.
Harvard astronomer Abraham Loeb argued earlier this year all theories, including ETs, need to be on the table.
He said: “At the moment we do not have a smoking gun that clearly indicates the nature of FRBs.
“So all possibilities should be considered, including an artificial origin.
“A civilisation might generate a powerful beam of light to propel cargos with a sail and we could observe the leakage of that radiation outside the boundaries of the sail.”
However, the repetitiveness of the FRBs is not unique, and many phenomena show similar behaviours in nature.
All possibilities should be considered, including an artificial origin
Abraham Loeb, Harvard Univerisity
Dr Loeb said: “Therefore, by itself – periodicity is not unusual enough to require an artificial origin.”
But astronomers are taking steps towards solving the mystery, thanks to FRB 121102 awaking from its 67 day slumber.
The FRB was discovered in 2012 and its looping bursts have since been traced back to a dwarf galaxy a mind-boggling three billion light-years away.
Because of how far away the FRB is, most scientists have excluded an artificial origin.
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Instead, researchers speculate FRB 121102 could originate in a binary star system with an orbital period of hundreds of days.
X-ray binaries – a duo of stars where a neutron star or black hole is siphoning from matter from its companion – can release large quantities of energy in the form of X-rays and radio emissions.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy have now revised the FRB 112102 cycle, believing it is closer to 161 days.
The revised measurement can eliminate some binary pairs, which have a much shorter orbital period.
However, it remains to be seen whether the pattern of activity and silence will continue.
Astronomers at the National Astronomy Observatory of China believe the activity will cease sometime between August 31 and September 9, 2020.
Some scientists speculate FRBs are linked to magnetars – neutron stars with extremely powerful magnetic fields.
And although most FRBs are extragalactic, earlier this year astronomers detected the first one from within the Milky Way.
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