In April, a team of astronomers discovered a short and powerful space radio from outer space and succeeded in finding its source: a powerful object in the Milky Way. This is the first time scientists have been able to pinpoint these mysterious radio waves from inside the Milky Way, making them the closest objects of their kind we’ve ever seen.
According to three papers published in the journal Nature, these radio waves, known as rapid radio storms, or FRBs, appear to have sprouted from a powerful “zombie” star lurking in the Milky Way. The object, called a neutrometer, is a super-dense remnant of a large, mass star bigger than the sun, which is called a magnet star. It has an incredibly powerful magnetic field, stores incredible energy, and can even distort the shape of atoms.
FRBs are thought to appear in the night sky once every second, flashing for only a few milliseconds at a time. But we have seen only a small part of these phenomena, and all the eruptions we have seen are clearly outside the Milky Way, some of which are billions of light-years away. This makes it difficult to figure out where they are coming from.
Now with this discovery, astronomers have a closer source – a magnet star 30,000 light-years away. From a cosmic point of view, it’s almost in our own backyard.
Scientists have been trying to trace the origin of FRBs since the first FRBs were detected in 2007. But because FRBs are so short, finding them often requires integrated observations with the right equipment at the right time and in the right place. Astronomers were lucky to find something, many of which seemed to be repetitive, flashing repeatedly in the same place in the sky. These recurring eruptions helped scientists find the galaxies at which these radio waves originated. However, it is not clear which objects are producing this phenomenon inside these galaxies.
That’s why this discovery is so critical. Two different observatories in North America — CHIME in Canada and STARE2 in the United States — discovered that the FRB came from the same place in the sky, enhancing the signal’s credibility. The brightness of this FRB is also incredible. In fact, according to Christopher Bochenek, a graduate student in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology who led the STAR2 discovery team, an ordinary mobile phone 4G LTE receiver can receive this signal.
“When I first saw the data, I was stunned and basically paralysed with excitement,” Bochenek told a news conference.
The timing and location of the radio storm coincide with another cosmic event that occurred nearby. Just a few days before the FRB was detected, astronomers noticed that a known magnetic star in the sky had become quite exuberating, emitting X-rays and gamma rays. After analyzing FRB data, astronomers at CHIME and STAR2 confirmed that the radio waves coincided with particularly large X-ray bursts from magnetic stars. The discovery made waves in astronomy earlier this year, with early scientific reports published online and media reports.
The researchers’ findings have been reviewed by other scientists and published this week in the journal Nature.