Astronomers have detected strange, persistent radio signals from distant galaxies that appear to flash in a heartbeat-like pattern.

It is classified as a fast radio burst (FRB). This is a very strong radio burst of unknown astrophysical origin, usually lasting up to a few milliseconds.

However, this new signal lasts up to 3 seconds. Researchers say this is about 1,000 times longer than the average Fed.

The team detected a burst of radio waves repeating every 0.2 seconds in this window in a well-defined periodic pattern.

Danielle Michiri, a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Kabri Astrophysics and Space Research Institute, said:

“Examples we know of in our own galaxies are radio pulsars and magnetars that rotate like lighthouses to generate beam radiation.

“And we think this new signal could be a steroid magnetar or pulsar.”

Called the Fed 20191221A, this signal is currently the longest-lasting Fed and has the clearest periodic pattern ever detected.

Its source is in a distant galaxy billions of light-years away from Earth.

However, astronomers believe that the signal can come from either a radio pulsar or a magnetar, but the exact source is still a mystery.

Both of these are types of neutron stars, the very dense, rapidly rotating, collapsed cores of giant stars.

The team wants to detect more periodic signals from this source. It can be used as an astrophysics clock.

For example, you can use the frequency of bursts and how the bursts change as the source moves away from Earth to measure the rate at which the universe expands.


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In December 2019, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime) received a potential Fed signal. This immediately caught the attention of Michilli, who was scanning the received data.

He states: “It was unusual. It was very long, not only lasting about 3 seconds, but also had a very accurate periodic peak, emitting a boom, boom, boom every second like a heartbeat.

“This is the first time that the signal itself is periodic.”

The findings reported in the journal Nature were made by members of the Chime / FRB collaboration, including MIT researchers.

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