NASA and Caltech help discover the source of a fast radio burst in our galaxy

Shane McGlaun - Nov 5, 2020, 5:28am CST
NASA and Caltech help discover the source of a fast radio burst in our galaxy

Something exciting happened on April 28 of this year when a strong x-ray radio burst occurred within our galaxy. Typically finding the source of x-ray radio bursts out in the universe is very difficult to do. The fact that this one was within the Milky Way galaxy made it easier for scientists at NASA and Caltech to pinpoint the source of the unique x-ray, radial burst. Researchers were able to determine the source was a supermagnetized stellar remnant known as a magnetar.

The discovery proves that magnetars can produce mysterious and powerful fast radio bursts (FRB) previously only discovered in other galaxies. Prior to this event, a wide variety of scenarios were used to explain the origins of FRBs. Chris Bochenek, a Ph.D. student from Caltech leading one study of the event, said that there could be twists in the story of FRBs in the future, but he believes it’s fair to say most come from magnetars until proven otherwise.

A magnetar is a type of neutron star resulting from the crushed remains of a star many times more massive than the sun, roughly the size of a city. They can produce a magnetic field 10 trillion times stronger than a refrigerator magnet and up to a thousand times stronger than a typical neutron star. The x-ray portion of the synchronous bursts were detected by multiple satellites, including the NASA Wind mission.

The FRB’s radio component was discovered by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), a radio telescope in British Columbia. The radio burst was also detected by a NASA-funded project called Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emissions 2 (STARE2). STARE2 also detected the radio burst discovered by CHIME.

Multiple researchers on the project were able to determine the burst’s energy was comparable to an FRB. The magnetar believed to be responsible for the FRB is called SGR 1935+2154 and is located in the constellation Vulpecula. The x-ray bursts emitted each lasted less than a second while the storm producing them raged for hours. After 13 hours, the storm subsided when the magnetar was out of the view of SWIFT, FERMI, and NICER.

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