An unusual radio burst with a pattern identical to a heartbeat has been observed in space.
Astronomers think the signal appeared from a galaxy approximately a billion light-years away. However, the exact location and reason for the burst are still unknown. Research detailing the outcomes was published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are solid and millisecond-long explosions of radio waves with unspecified origins. The first FRB was found in 2007, and since then, hundreds of these quick, cosmic flashes have been observed coming from several distant points throughout the universe.
Fast radio bursts are so quick and unexpected that they’re hard to identify.
Michilli was overseeing the data as it came in from CHIME when the burst happened. The signal is the longest-lasting fast radio burst to date.
“It was unusual,” Michilli announced. “Not only was it very long, lasting about three seconds, but there were periodic peaks that were remarkably precise, emitting every fraction of a second — boom, boom, boom — like a heartbeat. This is the first time the signal itself is periodic.”
While FRB 20191221A has not yet been repeated, “the signal is formed by a train of consecutive peaks that we found to be separated by ~0.2 seconds,” he explained in an email.
The research team hasn’t yet spotted the same galaxy from which the burst emerged, and even the distance estimate of a billion light-years is “highly uncertain,” Michilli said. While CHIME is developed to search for bursts of radio waves, it’s not as good at discovering their origin points.