Astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and other universities in Canada and the US are saying that they’ve detected a radio signal flashing repetitively from a faraway galaxy

In the research published in Journal Nature, authored by members of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME)/FRB Collaboration, the scientists noted that a fast radio burst (FRB) was detected several billion light years from earth.

FRBs are microsecond-duration radio wave flashes visible at distances of billions of light years. The one detected has been labelled FRB 20191221A. However, its source remains a mystery for now. 

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Astronomers have theorized it might be coming from magnetar or radio pulsar types of neutron stars. However, the duration of this FRB is notable. The signal first picked up in December 2019, and lasts for up to 3 seconds, which is 1,000 times longer than an average FRB. 

Daniele Michilli, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said as per New York Times, “It was unusual”, and added, “Not only was it very long, lasting about three seconds, but there were periodic peaks that were remarkably precise, emitting every fraction of a second — boom, boom, boom — like a heartbeat. This is the first time the signal itself is periodic”. 

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This is the longest-persisting FRB with the clearest periodic pattern so far, and the team also detected bursts of radio waves repeating every 0.2 seconds in a clear pattern. 

“The long (roughly [3-second]) duration and nine or more components forming the pulse profile make this source an outlier in the FRB population. Such short periodicity provides strong evidence for a neutron-star origin of the event. Moreover, our detection favours emission arising from the neutron-star magnetosphere, as opposed to emission regions located further away from the star, as predicted by some models”, the group noted. 

Currently, the team aims to detect more signals from this source.