Astronomers discover strange “heartbeat” signal billions of light-years from Earth | Science and technology news
Astronomers have spotted a strange and sustained “heartbeat” radio signal originating from a galaxy far, far away.
It was classified as a fast radio burst (FRB), but where such signals are usually very strong emissions of radio waves of unknown origin – typically lasting a few milliseconds at most – this one is different.
The new signal, which appears to blink in a pattern resembling a beating heart, runs for up to three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than an average FRB.
News of the discovery comes in the same week that produced incredible images of a dying star and a “cosmic dance.” revealed in an extraordinary series of NASA photos.
The team detected bursts of radio waves repeating in a clear periodic pattern every 0.2 seconds within this window.
Researchers say there are very few things in the universe that are known to emit these strictly periodic signals.
Daniele Michilli, a postdoc at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), explained: “Examples that we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars that rotate and produce a beam-like emission lighthouse.
“And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or a pulsar on steroids.”
Radio pulsars and magnetars are types of neutron stars — extremely dense, fast-spinning, collapsed cores of giant stars.
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The signal, designated FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest-lived FRB with the clearest periodic pattern yet discovered.
Its source is in a distant galaxy, several billion light-years from Earth.
The team hopes to discover more periodic signals from this source, which could then be used as an astrophysical clock.