Welcome back!

I hope you are all safe and doing well.

We are already hurtling through the first month of the new year, and what a month it has been so far. With the news landing hefty blows to people who wished it to be a less-eventful year, it is easy to lose hope and optimism.

But in the darkest times, it is hope and optimism that will prevail above all.

In today’s post, as a result, I’d like to discuss something that is a literal ray of brightness cutting through the darkness of the empty spaces in the cosmos: fast radio bursts.

Much like these transient signals illuminating the darkest quarters of the sky, we must let hope illuminate our lives. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Fast radio bursts, often shortened to FRBs, are among the most mysterious phenomena that the universe has to offer. This may not seem intuitive, but the fact remains that astronomers to this date do not know what generates them—although they have some pretty good ideas.

But all that later! What even is an FRB, you ask?

Well, the name is rather self-explanatory. An FRB is simply a radio signal of unknown origin and unknown creation. These signals can be immensely powerful; scientists estimate that a typical FRB releases the energy that the Sun releases in 3 days over the course of a millisecond.

 Best Fast Radio Bursts GIFs | GfycatCredit: NASA

The first FRB was discovered very recently, in 2007, by astronomer Duncan Lorimer while poring through archived pulsar data. This FRB was, therefore, termed the Lorimer Burst. Its discovery opened a new frontier onto research into radio astronomy, and the drive to discover what these things were constituted of began.

Now, astronomers had some general information about these FRBs through their analysis of what the signals constituted of. Due to the incredibly high polarization of the signals, they reasoned that the FRBs had to be generated by an incredibly strong magnetic field.

This narrowed down their prospects considerably; a theory that was only reinforced when FRBs were discovered in the same general area of the sky as a known magnetar.

Scientists are continuing to get data from FRBs in an attempt to establish definitively the mechanisms that are responsible for their generation.

Most notably, some recent FRBs have been shown to be periodical, repeating about every 16 days. This further reinforces their potential link to pulsars or similar rotating objects.

 Mysterious fast radio burst repeats in 16-day rhythm | Space | EarthSkyCredit: EarthSky

The most recent characterization of the source of FRBs by astronomers is as follows: “compact-object mergers and magnetars arising from normal core-collapse supernovae.” 

But who knows what they are actually made of? The future for research into fast radio bursts is bright. With technology allowing radio astronomy to occur improving every year, an analysis of their source becomes more and more likely as we hurtle into that beyond.

Clear skies!