June 12, 2024

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New research challenges the idea that mysterious fast radio bursts come in two flavors

New research challenges the idea that mysterious fast radio bursts come in two flavors

An international team of researchers – including a Dutch scientist – compared the direction of light vibration caused by infrequent fast radio bursts with that of recurring fast radio bursts. This produces a big surprise.

This can be read in the magazine Astrophysical Journal. For this study, astronomers studied the polarization—or direction of vibration—of light from 128 non-repeating fast radio bursts (see box). The polarization of light is difficult to measure, but it can provide insight into the origin of flashes and contains a printout of all the magnetic fields the flash encountered along the way.

Fast radio blast
Fast radio bursts are among the brightest in the universe, emitting mainly radio waves. In fact, a single flash contains ten trillion times the annual energy consumption of the entire world’s population. Fast radio bursts are short-lived. Each flash lasts only a millisecond. Fast radio bursts come in two “flavors”: there are one-time and recurring radio bursts. It’s still unclear exactly how these fast radio bursts arise, although the first radio burst was detected in 2007. However, strong evidence has recently emerged that magnetars – neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields – are involved.

To gain more insight into the origin of fast radio flashes, scientists have now looked at the direction of light oscillation from 128 fast radio flashes that appeared only once. They used data collected by the Canadian radio telescope CHIME.

The study first reveals that of the 128 fast radio flashes studied, 89 clearly emitted linearly polarized light. In 29 other fast radio bursts, little or no polarized light was likely emitted. The researchers were unable to make any statements about the polarization of light from the other 10 sources – due to a disturbed signal.

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Because a previous study had already looked at the polarization of repeated fast radio flashes, the researchers were able to compare the polarization of light from the 128 one-time radio flashes with the polarization of light from previously examined fast radio flashes that made repeated appearances. This led to a great surprise, says researcher Ziggy Plionis. “To our surprise, there were no clearly observed differences in polarization between non-repeaters and repeaters. This is surprising, because previous research has shown differences in duration and bandwidth between non-repeaters and repeaters, so I thought we would also find a clear difference in polarization.”

Two flavors or one?
The fact that this does not appear to be the case suggests tentatively that recurring and non-repeating fast radio bursts are much more similar than previously thought. “This may be possible, but I now suspect that recurrent flashes and non-repeated flashes have the same origin,” Plionis says.

Non-repeating flash is the frequency of flash at rest?
In this case, for example, it’s possible that infrequent flashes are frequent flashes, but now she handles it a little easier. Another option is that the infrequent flashes are in a less extreme environment, so the flashes are less frequent. However, more research is needed to fully clarify this.

Research by Plionis and colleagues also provides a glimpse into the origins of non-recurring flashes. There is strong evidence that they exist in galaxies with low densities and modest magnetic fields. “These galaxies are very similar to our Milky Way,” says researcher Aayush Pandey.