A fast radio burst has reached us across billions of light years

In the summer of 2022, astronomers discovered the most powerful fast radio burst (FRB) ever observed. It has also become the most distant known event of this nature, since it has been coming to us for more than half of the time that the Universe has existed.

Cluster of galaxies from which the radio burst came. Source: phys.org

Amazing fast radio burst

Astronomers led by Northwestern University have identified the birthplace of a new fast radio burst and it is really quite interesting. Using images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the researchers realized that it came not from one galaxy but from a whole group of at least seven star systems.

The galaxies in this group seem to be interacting with each other—perhaps even on their way to a potential merger. Such clusters are rare and possibly led to conditions that triggered a rapid radio burst. This unexpected finding may challenge scientific models of how fast radio bursts form and what generates them.

“Without the Hubble’s imaging, it would still remain a mystery as to whether this FRB originated from one monolithic galaxy or from some type of interacting system,” said Alexa Gordon of Northwestern University, who led the study.

Birth from a cluster?

Fast radio bursts are short powerful radio bursts. They generate more energy in one quick flare than our Sun emits in an entire year. And the record burst (called FRB 20220610A) was even more extreme than its predecessors.

It was not only four times more energetic than the closer flares but also became the most distant of all those discovered so far. When FRB 20220610A originated, the Universe was only 5 billion years old (for comparison, the Universe is now 13.8 billion years old).

According to early observations, the radio burst appeared near an unidentified amorphous spot, which astronomers at first considered either one irregular galaxy or a group of three distant star systems. But now Hubble’s clear images suggest that this spot may be at least seven galaxies that are incredibly close to each other. In fact, these star systems are so close to each other that they could all fit inside our Milky Way.

Mysterious explosions

Although astronomers have discovered about 1,000 radio bursts since their first discovery in 2007, their sources remain uncertain to this day. Although astronomers have not yet reached a consensus on the possible mechanisms of their occurrence, they generally agree that the source should be a compact object such as a black hole or a neutron star.

By understanding what fast radio bursts are, astronomers could not only learn about mysterious phenomena but also about the true nature of the Universe. When the electromagnetic waves from these events finally reach our telescopes, they have traveled billions of years from the distant, early Universe. During this odyssey, they interact with matter on their way.

Astronomers need to detect and study more of these signals to continue to investigate fast radio bursts and their origin. As technology constantly becomes more sensitive, the researchers say that the detection of significantly quieter events that we have not heard before is just around the corner.

According to phys.org

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