Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |
They’re fast, man —
A survey shows that the lone repeating instance is a real exception.
Some of science’s biggest mysteries are in outer space. The identity of dark matter and dark energy involve fundamental questions about how the Universe is constructed. If you instead are interested in mysteries about what the Universe is doing, then fast radio bursts may be at the top of the enigma list.
They are, as their name suggests, fast, lasting for only a handful of milliseconds. And they also involve huge quantities of energy at radio wavelengths, just as promised. But beyond that, we know almost nothing about them, and we have only observed about 35 of them as of last count. Their rarity and transient nature have helped keep them from being better understood.
But this week’s edition of Nature includes a collection of 20 new observations, all occurring since the start of 2017. Unfortunately, the new bursts don’t tell us much about how they’re generated. And, to make matters worse, they suggest that our best bet for figuring it out—the only repeating burst source we know about—is probably unlike all the other sources we’re seeing.
It’s possible that we have observed fast radio bursts in the past, but their strange behavior—a sudden surge of energy and then nothing—make them seem more like a glitch in the equipment than a real phenomenon. Things are also not helped by the fact that we’ve now created a vast number of potential radio sources in the vicinity of Earth. But eventually, scientists convinced themselves that what they were looking at was real and represented a large source of energy at a great distance, although it wasn’t clear if they were in our own galaxy or not.
Since they come and go so quickly, it has been difficult to localize them to a specific source—they tend to be picked up by broad surveys of the sky, which typically can’t give us a precise location. The only exception is a single instance where a source seemed to produce repeated bursts. That object is 3.7 billion light years aw