Fast Radio Burst's Mysterious Origins Discovered, Shedding Light on These Cosmic Events

First Posted: Dec 02, 2015 05:14 PM EST

Astronomers have discovered the origin of a mysterious, fast radio burst that occurred. They've tied it to a highly magnetized, gas-filled region of space, which provides a new hint in the decade-long quest to explain the mysterious radio pulses.

"We now know that the energy from this particular burst passed through a dense magnetized field shortly after it formed," said Kiyoshi Masui, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This significantly narrows down the source's environment and type of even that triggered the burst-and means the source of the pulse likely resides within a star-forming nebula or the remnant of a supernova."

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are bursts of energy from space that appear as short flashes of radio waves to telescopes on Earth. They have long baffled astronomers, and only 16 have ever been recorded. Now, though, researchers may be unraveling this mystery.

"Hidden within an incredibly massive dataset, we found a very peculiar signal that matched all the known characteristics of a Fast Radio Burst, but with a tantalizing extra element that we simply have never seen before," said Jeffrey Peterson, one of the researchers.

In this case, the researchers found the FRB exhibited Faraday rotation, which is a corkscrew-like twist radio waves acquire by passing through a powerful magnetic field. Addition analysis showed that it also passed through two distinct regions of ionized gas on its way to Earth. In this case, the researchers found that one of the regions of ionized gas was very near the burst's source. In fact, the researchers were able to determine that the burst was from a nebula surrounding the source or a galactic center.

"Taken together, these remarkable data reveal more about an FRB than we have ever seen before and give us important constraints on these mysterious events," said Masui.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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