M81, Spitzer Space Telescope (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
A recently discovered repeating fast radio burst (FRB) named FRB 20200120E is deepening the mystery of these already deeply mysterious space signals.
Astronomers have tracked its location to a galaxy 11.7 million light-years away, which makes it the closest known extragalactic fast radio burst, 40 times closer than the next-closest extragalactic signal.
But it also appears in a globular cluster – a clump of very old stars, not the sort of place at all one might expect to find the type of star spitting out FRBs.
Its discovery suggests a different formation mechanism for these stars, suggesting that FRBs could emerge from a wider range of environments than we thought.
FRBs have been deviling scientists since the first one was discovered back in 2007. They consist of extremely powerful signals from deep space, millions of light-years away, some discharging more energy than 500 million Suns and only detected in radio wavelengths.
Yet these bursts are shockingly brief, shorter than the blink of an eye – mere milliseconds in duration – and most of them don’t repeat, making them very hard to predict, trace, and therefore understand.
Great article. Helluva topic.
You know…at the rate we humans are expanding the specialized systems encompassing all of astronomy, the next century or so is going to be truly interesting.