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In radio astronomy, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a transient radio pulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process not yet understood. While extremely energetic at their source, the strength of the signal reaching Earth has been described as 1,000 times less than from a mobile phone on the Moon. The first FRB was discovered by Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic in 2007 when they were looking through archival pulsar survey data, and it is therefore commonly referred to as the Lorimer Burst. Many FRBs have since been recorded, including several that have been detected to repeat in seemingly irregular ways. Nonetheless, one FRB, as of February 2020, has been detected to repeat in a regular way: particularly, FRB 180916 seems to pulse every 16.35 days. Although the exact origin and cause is uncertain, they are almost definitely extragalactic.
The localization and characterization in 2012 of FRB 121102, one of the three repeating sources, has improved the understanding of the source class. FRB 121102 is identified with a galaxy at a distance of approximately 3 billion light-years, well outside the Milky Way, and is embedded in an extreme environment. The first host galaxy identified for a non-repeating burst, FRB 180924, was identified in 2019 and is a much larger and more ordinary galaxy, nearly the size of the Milky Way. In August 2019, astronomers reported the detection of eight more repeating FRB signals. In January 2020, astronomers reported the precise location of a second repeating burst, FRB 180916.
The first fast radio burst to be described, the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was detected in 2007 in archived data recorded by the Parkes Observatory on 24 July 2001. Since then, most known FRBs have been found in previously recorded data. On 19 January 2015, astronomers at Australia's national science agency (CSIRO) reported that a fast radio burst had been observed for the first time live, by the Parkes Observatory.
Fast radio bursts are bright, unresolved (pointsource-like), broadband (spanning a large range of radio frequencies), millisecond flashes found in parts of the sky outside the Milky Way. Unlike many radio sources, the signal from a burst is detected in a short period of time with enough strength to stand out from the noise floor. The burst usually appears as a single spike of energy without any change in its strength over time. The bursts last for several milliseconds (thousandths of a second). The bursts come from all over the sky, and are not concentrated on the plane of the Milky Way. Known FRB locations are biased by the parts of the sky that the observatories can image.
Many have radio frequencies detected around 1400 MHz; a few have been detected at lower frequencies in the range of 400-800 MHz. The component frequencies of each burst are delayed by different amounts of time depending on the wavelength. This delay is described by a value referred to as a dispersion measure (DM). This results in a received signal that sweeps rapidly down in frequency, as longer wavelengths are delayed more.
The interferometerUTMOST has put a lower limit of 10,000 kilometers for the distance to the FRBs it has detected, supporting the case for an astronomical, rather than terrestrial, origin (because signal sources on Earth are ruled out as being closer than this limit). This limit can be determined from the fact that closer sources would have a curved wave front that could be detected by the multiple antennas of the interferometer.
Fast radio bursts have pulse dispersion measurements , much larger than expected for a source inside the Milky Way galaxy and consistent with propagation through an ionized plasma. Furthermore, their distribution is isotropic (not especially coming from the galactic plane);:fig 3 consequently they are conjectured to be of extragalactic origin.
Fast radio bursts are named by the date the signal was recorded, as "FRB YYMMDD".
2007 (Lorimer Burst)
The first FRB detected, the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was discovered in 2007 when Duncan Lorimer assigned his student David Narkevic to look through archival data taken in 2001 by the Parkes radio dish in Australia.
Analysis of the survey data found a 30-janskydispersed burst which occurred on 24 July 2001, less than 5 milliseconds in duration, located 3° from the Small Magellanic Cloud. The reported burst properties argue against a physical association with the Milky Way galaxy or the Small Magellanic Cloud. The burst became known as the Lorimer Burst. The discoverers argue that current models for the free electron content in the Universe imply that the burst is less than 1 gigaparsec distant. The fact that no further bursts were seen in 90 hours of additional observations implies that it was a singular event such as a supernova or merger of relativistic objects. It is suggested that hundreds of similar events could occur every day and, if detected, could serve as cosmological probes.
In 2010 there was a report of 16 similar pulses, clearly of terrestrial origin, detected by the Parkes radio telescope and given the name perytons. In 2015 perytons were shown to be generated when microwave oven doors were opened during a heating cycle, with detected emission being generated by the microwave oven's magnetron tube as it was being powered off.
An observation in 2012 of a fast radio burst (FRB 121102) in the direction of Auriga in the northern hemisphere using the Arecibo radio telescope confirmed the extragalactic origin of fast radio pulses by an effect known as plasma dispersion.
In November 2015, astronomer Paul Scholz at McGill University in Canada, found ten non-periodically repeated fast radio pulses in archival data gathered in May and June 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescope. The ten bursts have dispersion measures and sky positions consistent with the original burst FRB 121102, detected in 2012. Like the 2012 burst, the 10 bursts have a plasma dispersion measure that is three times larger than possible for a source in the Milky Way Galaxy.
The team thinks that this finding rules out self-destructive, cataclysmic events that could only occur once, such as the explosion of a black hole or the collision between two neutron stars. According to the scientists, the data support an origin in a young rotating neutron star (pulsar), or in a highly magnetized neutron star (magnetar), or from highly magnetized pulsars travelling through asteroid belts, or from an intermittent Roche lobe overflow in a neutron star-white dwarf binary.
On 16 December 2016 six new FRBs were reported in the same direction (one having been received on 13 November 2015, four on 19 November 2015, and one on 8 December 2015).:Table 2 As of January 2019[update] this is one of only two instances in which these signals have been found twice in the same location in space. FRB 121102 is located at least 1150 AU from Earth, excluding the possibility of a human-made source, and is almost certainly extragalactic in nature.
On 26 August 2017, astronomers using data from the Green Bank Telescope detected 15 additional repeating FRBs coming from FRB 121102 at 5 to 8 GHz. The researchers also noted that FRB 121102 is presently in a "heightened activity state, and follow-on observations are encouraged, particularly at higher radio frequencies". The waves are highly polarized, meaning "twisting" transverse waves, that could only have formed when passing through hot plasma with an extremely strong magnetic field. FRB 121102's radio bursts are about 500 times more polarized than those from any other FRB to date. Since it is a repeating FRB source, it suggests that it does not come from some one-time cataclysmic event, so one hypothesis, first advanced in January 2018, proposes that these particular repeating bursts may come from a dense stellar core called a neutron star near an extremely powerful magnetic field, such as one near a massive black hole, or one embedded in a nebula.
Fast radio bursts discovered up until 2015 had dispersion measures that were close to multiples of 187.5 pc cm-3. However subsequent observations do not fit this pattern.
On 18 April 2015, FRB 150418 was detected by the Parkes observatory and within hours, several telescopes including the Australia Telescope Compact Array caught an apparent radio "afterglow" of the flash, which took six days to fade. The Subaru telescope was used to find what was thought to be the host galaxy and determine its redshift and the implied distance to the burst.
However, the association of the burst with the afterglow was soon disputed, and by April 2016 it was established that the "afterglow" originates from an active galactic nucleus that is powered by a supermassive black hole with dual jets blasting outward from the black hole. It was also noted that what was thought to be an "afterglow", did not fade away as would be expected, meaning that the variable AGN is unlikely to be associated with the actual fast radio burst.
According to Anastasia Fialkov and Abraham Loeb, FRB's could be occurring as often as once per second. Earlier research could not identify the occurrence of FRB's to this degree.
Artist's impression of a fast radio burst FRB 181112 traveling through space and reaching Earth.
Three FRBs were reported in March 2018 by Parkes Observatory in Australia. One (FRB 180309) had the highest signal to noise ratio yet seen of 411.
The unusual CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) radio telescope, operational from September 2018, will be used to detect "hundreds" of fast radio bursts as a secondary objective to its cosmological observations. FRB 180725A was reported by CHIME as the first detection of a FRB under 700 MHz - as low as 580 MHz.
On 9 January 2019, astronomers announced the discovery of a second repeating FRB source, named FRB 180814, by CHIME. Six bursts were detected between August and October 2018, "consistent with originating from a single position on the sky". The detection was made during CHIME's pre-commissioning phase, during which it operated intermittently, suggesting a "substantial population of repeating FRBs", and that the new telescope would make more detections.
Some news media reporting of the discovery speculated that the repeating FRB could be evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, a possibility explored in relation to previous FRBs by some scientists, but not raised by the discoverers of FRB 180814.
FRB 181112 was mysteriously unaffected after believed to have passed through the Halo of an intervening galaxy.
FRB 180924 is the first non-repeating FRB to be traced to its source. The source is a galaxy 3.6 billion light-years away. The galaxy is nearly as large as the Milky Way and about 1000 times larger than the source of FRB 121102. While the latter is an active site of star formation and a likely place for magnetars, the source of FRB 180924 is an older and less active galaxy.
Because the source was nonrepeating, the astronomers had to scan large areas with the 36 telescopes of ASKAP. Once a signal was found, they used the Very Large Telescope, the Gemini Observatory in Chile, and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to identify its host galaxy and determine its distance. Knowing the distance and source galaxy properties, enables a study of the composition of the intergalactic medium.
On 28 June 2019, Russian astronomers reported the discovery of nine FRB events (FRB 121029, FRB 131030, FRB 140212, FRB 141216, FRB 151125.1, FRB 151125.2, FRB 160206, FRB 161202, FRB 180321), which include FRB 151125, the third repeating one ever detected, from the direction of the M 31 (Andromeda Galaxy) and M 33 (Triangulum Galaxy) galaxies during the analysis of archive data (July 2012 to December 2018) produced by the BSA/LPIlarge phased arrayradio telescope at the Pushchino Radio Astronomy Observatory.
On 2 July 2019, astronomers reported that FRB 190523, a non-repeating FRB, has been discovered and, notably, localized to a few-arcsecond region containing a single massive galaxy at a redshift of 0.66, nearly 8 billion light-years away from Earth.
In August 2019, the CHIME Fast Radio Burst Collaboration reported the detection of eight more repeating FRB signals.
Because of the isolated nature of the observed phenomenon, the nature of the source remains speculative. As of 2020[update], there is no generally accepted explanation. The sources are thought to be a few hundred kilometers or less in size, as the bursts last for only a few milliseconds, and if the bursts come from cosmological distances, their sources must be very energetic, generating as much energy in a millisecond burst as the Sun does in 80 years.
Especially energetic supernovae could be the source of these bursts.Blitzars were proposed in 2013 as an explanation.
In 2014 it was suggested that following dark matter-induced collapse of pulsars, the resulting expulsion of the pulsar magnetospheres could be the source of fast radio bursts. In 2015 it was suggested that FRBs are caused by explosive decays of axion miniclusters. Another exotic possible source are cosmic strings that produced these bursts as they interacted with the plasma that permeated the early Universe. In 2016 the collapse of the magnetospheres of Kerr-Newman black holes were proposed to explain the origin of the FRBs' "afterglow" and the weak gamma-ray transient 0.4 s after GW 150914. It has also been proposed that if fast radio bursts originate in black hole explosions, FRBs would be the first detection of quantum gravity effects. In early 2017, it was proposed that the strong magnetic field near a supermassive black hole could destabilize the current sheets within a pulsar's magnetosphere, releasing trapped energy to power the FRBs.
Repeated bursts of FRB 121102 have initiated multiple origin hypotheses. A coherent emission phenomenon known as superradiance, which involves large-scale entangled quantum mechanical states possibly arising in environments such as active galactic nuclei, has been proposed to explain these and other associated observations with FRBs (e.g. high event rate, repeatability, variable intensity profiles). In July 2019, astronomers reported that non-repeatingFast Radio Bursts (FRB)s may not be one-off events, but actually FRB repeaters with repeat events that have gone undetected and, further, that FRBs may be formed by events that have not yet been seen or considered. Additional possibilities include that FRBs may originate from nearby stellar flares.
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