The origin of mysterious fast radio bursts (FRB) emanating from our own galaxy has been solved by Nasa scientists.
Their unique nature has led scientists to speculate on the forms of cosmic phenomena that may cause them or even ponder whether they could be generated by an alien civilisation.
But the researchers now believe they have identified their origin after detecting an FRB from an astronomical object known as a magnetar, which resides in the Milky Way, about 30,000 light years from Earth.
On 28 April, a super-magnetised stellar remnant known as a magnetar blasted out a simultaneous mix of X-ray and radio signals never observed before.
A magnetar is a type of isolated neutron star which is formed from the remains of a star many times larger than our Sun.
What makes a magnetar so special is its intense magnetic field. The field can be 10 trillion times stronger than a refrigerator magnet’s and up to a thousand times stronger than a typical neutron star. This represents an enormous storehouse of energy that astronomers suspect powers magnetar outbursts.
“Before this event, a wide variety of scenarios could explain the origin of FRBs,” said researchers Chris Bochenek. “While there may still be exciting twists in the story of FRBs in the future, for me, right now, I think it’s fair to say that most FRBs come from magnetars until proven otherwise.”
The X-ray portion of the synchronous bursts was detected by several satellites, including Nasa’s Wind mission.
“The radio burst was far brighter than anything we had seen before, so we immediately knew it was an exciting event,” said Paul Scholz, a researcher at the University of Toronto.
“We’ve studied magnetars in our galaxy for decades, while FRBs are an extragalactic phenomenon whose origins have been a mystery. This event shows that the two phenomena are likely connected.”
The findings, published in three separate papers in the journal Nature, come from an international team of more than 50 researchers.
The astronomers used five telescopes to pick up signals from a magnetar at the centre of the galaxy, known as SGR 1935+2154.