'Heartbeat' spotted billions of light-years away

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A “heartbeat” spotted billions of light-years away

The CHIME radio telescope has detected a persistent radio signal that flashes with surprising regularity.

A “new kind” fast radio burst (SRR) has been detected in a distant galaxy by an international team of astrophysicists led by Daniele Michilli, researcher at the McGill University and postdoctoral fellow at MIT.

SSRs are very energetic, but also very short pulses of radio waves: they usually only last a few milliseconds. They emit as much energy in a millisecond as the Sun does in 10,000 years.

The burst spotted on December 21, 2019 using the CHIME telescope quickly caught the attention of Daniele Michilli, who noticed something unusual in the collected data.

The scientist and his colleagues found that the new signal named FRB 20191221A persists for up to three seconds, about 1000 times longer than the average burst discovered so far.

“It is currently the longest-lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern, detected to date. […] This is the first time that the signal itself is periodic.

— Daniele Michilli, researcher at McGill University

The team now hopes to detect more periodic signals from this source, which could then be used as an astrophysical clock.

“The frequency of the bursts and how they change as the source moves away from Earth could be used to measure the speed of expansion of the Universe. »

— Daniele Michilli, researcher at McGill University

Strictly periodic signal sources are very rare in the Universe.

Examples we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which spin and produce a beam emission similar to a lighthouse. And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or a pulsar on steroids, says Aaron Pearlman of the McGill Space Institute, who also contributed to the paper.

All the first SRR was observed in 2007, and its source, a distant dwarf galaxy, was determined in 2017.

Details of the work are published in the journal Nature (in English).

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