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Astronomers find a predictable repeating sound found outside our galaxy. Pixabay

Researchers have detected a strange repeating rhythm of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) emanating from an unknown source outside our galaxy, 500 million light-years away.

Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are short, intense flashes of radio waves that are thought to be the product of small, distant, extremely dense objects, though exactly what those objects might be is a longstanding mystery in astrophysics.


FRBs typically last a few milliseconds, during which time they can outshine entire galaxies. Since the first FRB was observed in 2007, astronomers have cataloged over 100 fast radio bursts from distant sources scattered across the universe, outside our own galaxy.

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Now astronomers have started to find bursts repeating in a pattern, where they seem to switch off and on in a predictable pattern. The latest discovery, published in the journal Nature, sends out random bursts of radio waves over a four-day window, and then goes quiet for 12 days, before beginning again.

Researchers watched the bursts for more than 500 days, noting that the 16-day pattern occurred consistently over that time, making it the most definitive pattern yet seen.

“This FRB we’re reporting now is like clockwork,” said study researcher Kiyoshi Masui from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.


Strange sound detected from unknown sources in our galaxy. Pixabay

“It’s the most definitive pattern we’ve seen from one of these sources. And it’s a big clue that we can use to start hunting down the physics of what’s causing these bright flashes, which nobody really understands,” Masui added.

The latest FRBs were picked up by CHIME, which was the first to pick up signals of the new periodic FRB source. In 2017, CHIME was erected at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, where it quickly began detecting fast radio bursts from galaxies across the universe, billions of light-years outside our galaxy.

CHIME consists of four large antennas, each about the size and shape of a snowboarding half-pipe, and is designed with no moving parts. Rather than swiveling to focus on different parts of the sky, CHIME stares fixedly at the entire sky, using digital signal processing to pinpoint the region of space where incoming radio waves are originating.

From September 2018 to February 2020, CHIME picked out 38 fast radio bursts from a single source, FRB 180916. J0158+65, which the astronomers traced to a star-churning region on the outskirts of a massive spiral galaxy, 500 million light-years from Earth.


The latest FRBs were picked up by CHIME, which was the first to pick up signals of the new periodic FRB source. Pixabay

The source is the most active FRB source that CHIME has yet detected, and until recently it was the closest FRB source to Earth. As the researchers plotted each of the 38 bursts over time, a pattern began to emerge: One or two bursts would occur over four days, followed by a 12-day period without any bursts, after which the pattern would repeat.

This 16-day cycle occurred again and again over the 500 days that they observed the source.

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“These periodic bursts are something that we’ve never seen before, and it’s a new phenomenon in astrophysics,” Masui said.

The researchers noted that the blasts could also be the result of a binary system such as a neutron star orbiting around another neutron star or black hole. The pattern could be the result of the orbit between, and the interaction between the two objects, which would explain their regular pattern, they concluded. (IANS)


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NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have, so far, found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy, almost all of them less than about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

An exoplanet in M51 would be about 28 million light-years away, meaning it would be thousands of times farther away than those in the Milky Way, NASA said.

"We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies," said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

The team looked for X-ray transits in three galaxies beyond the Milky Way galaxy, using both Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Their search covered 55 systems in M51, 64 systems in Messier 101 (the "Pinwheel" galaxy), and 119 systems in Messier 104 (the "Sombrero" galaxy).

However, more data would be needed to verify the interpretation as an extragalactic exoplanet. One challenge is that the planet candidate's large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, thwarting any attempts for a confirming observation for decades, NASA said.

Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)


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