Photo: CHIME Cooperation
Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Telescope at Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton.
Canadian and American astronomers warn of the detection of radio impulses from deep space, which they say could be used as something of an astrophysical clock.
“The frequency of eruptions, and how they change as the source moves away from Earth, could be used to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding,” explained Daniele Michilli of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a post-doc researcher at Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
The astronomers are working with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), which operates an interferometric radio telescope consisting of four large parabolic reflectors. It is located at BC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton.
What the researchers have discovered is a signal classified as a rapid radio eruption (FRB) – an intensely powerful eruption of radio waves of unknown astrophysical origin that typically lasts for a few milliseconds at most.
In December 2019, CHIME picked up a signal about a potential FRB, which immediately attracted Michilli’s attention, who scanned the incoming data.
“It was unusual,” Michilli said. “Not only was it very long, and it lasted about three seconds, but there were periodic peaks that were remarkably accurate, emitting every fraction of a second – boom, boom, boom – like a heartbeat. It’s the first time, itself the signal is periodic. “
These three seconds are about 1,000 times longer than the average FRB.
Within this window, the team detected eruptions of radio waves that are repeated every 0.2 seconds.
The source of the signal is in a distant galaxy, billions of light-years from Earth.
But exactly what this source may be remains a mystery. Astronomers suspect that it could come from either a radio pulsar or a magnetar, both types of neutron stars – extremely dense, rapidly rotating collapsed nuclei of giant stars.
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