Researchers have discovered a repeating radio signal that they have traced to a single source a half-billion light-years away. Researchers looking at data from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project (CHIME/FRB) discovered that fast radio bursts (FRBs) from a particular spot in space were repeating in a 16-day cycle. This FRB has been tracked back to a massive spiral galaxy 500 million light-years from Earth.
FRBs are superfast bursts of radio waves that flash across Earth from deep space. It is likely that they have been occurring throughout time, but they were only discovered by scientists in 2007. FRBs only last milliseconds, and they usually seem to happen at random, so most have been observed by accident. This makes them notoriously difficult to study.
The repeating FRB, known as FRB 180916.J0158+65, was first discovered in 2019. In their latest paper, published to the arXiv database, the researchers show that the fast radio bursts occurred in a pattern every 16.35 days between September 16, 2018 and October 30, 2019. A burst or two were released each hour for four days before going silent for 12 days, then beginning the pattern all over again. According to the researchers, no one knows what this pattern means and this pattern doesn’t fit into any existing explanations for FRBs.
In general, patterns like this in astrophysics tend to indicate rotation, often related to a spinning object or orbiting celestial bodies. It is extremely consistent, and this suggests a periodic cause. Theories have emerged, such as they come from a neutron star orbiting a young OB star or that they are the result of hyperflares created by highly magnetic stars known as magnetars. Further study is now needed to determine if there are patterns within other already discovered FRBs.