At the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week, researchers at a powerful new Canadian telescope announced the detection of 13 new fast radio bursts (FRBs) in a mere two months of observations - a 20 percent increase over the five dozen bursts that have been found in the past 12 years.
"The telescope has no moving parts".
The precise nature and origin of the blasts of radio waves is unknown.
The last time they were detected was in 2007, when one was spotted by chance in radio astronomy data that had been collected in 2001. Additionally, "this second source shows burst behavior (i.e. multiple structures in the burst) that is extremely similar to the first repeating FRB and which is different from all the single FRBs", Tendulkar said.
Until now, only one FRB - which was labeled FRB 112102 - was found to repeat itself later on. "In principle, there might be two separate types of sources, as in the case of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), where long-duration GRBs (lasting more than a few seconds) are linked to the collapse of massive stars and short-duration GRBs are linked to mergers of neutrons stars".
CHIME, the world's most powerful radio telescope is poised to detect many more of the enigmatic pulses now that it is fully operational.
"With fast radio bursts, it's always felt like the more answers we get, the more questions we have", said Sarah Burke-Spolaor, an astrophysicist at West Virginia University who was not involved in the new research.
"[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth". FRBs are typically in the 1,400 MHz range, and the previous lowest radio frequency was at 700 MHz.
The CHIME team's recent results settles these doubts, with the majority of the 13 bursts being recorded well down to the lowest frequencies in CHIME's range. Some scientists had anxious that the range of frequencies it can pick up would be too low for it to receive the FRBs - but it found far more than expected, and scientists expect it to identify even more.
Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member from the National Research Council, said the findings provide rich information about the sources and environments that generate fast radio bursts. CHIME measures scattering more precisely than other instruments because it operates at lower frequencies.
Team member Dr Cherry Ng, from the University of Toronto, said: "That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova [exploding star] remnant".
'Or near the central black hole in a galaxy. "But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see". The telescope is located in the mountains of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley at the NRC's Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton. Scientists don't know where they come from, or what celestial event could be so dramatic yet common enough to produce thousands of bursts every day.
This article is adapated from a press release issued by McGill University.