Weird cosmic object keeps exploding over and over again, and scientists don't know why

Astronomers witnessed a mysterious object in the universe emit 1,652 bursts of energy in a very short time. Although researchers remain unsure of the cause, they hope that the observations will lead them to a better understanding.
This entity is known as a fast radio burst, an intriguing phenomenon that was first discovered in 2007. FRBs emit pulses in radio spectrum. These pulses are only for a few thousandths second, but they produce as much energy in one year as the sun.

While some FRBs only emit energy once, others, including FRB 121102 located in a dwarf galaxies 3 billion light-years away, are known to produce multiple bursts. A team of scientists used the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope in China to study this repeating FRB.

Related: 15 memorable images of stars

According to Bing Zhang, an astrophysicist from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, the campaign was intended to gather data on this specific entity. It was initially just stamp collecting.

Zhang said that FAST is the most sensitive radio telescope in the world, and can therefore detect things other observatories may have missed. The researchers observed FRB 121102 explode 1652 times over 60 hours, sometimes as many as 117 times an hour. This is far more than any other repeating FRB. The results of the team were published in Nature on October 13.

FRBs are found in the far future, making them difficult to study. However, in 2020, astronomers discovered an FRB within our Milky Way galaxy. This allowed them to identify that it was a type a dead star called a magneticar.

From ultradense stellar bodies known as neutron star stellites, magnetars can be formed. All neutron stars possess strong magnetic fields. However, there are some outliers that have extremely intense magnetic fields that can alter their behavior and make them magnetars. It is not yet known if all FRBs can be considered magnetars.

It is not known how magnetars can give rise to FRBs. Zhang and his colleagues have collected data that suggests FRB 121102 may be a magnetar. However, these quick explosive bursts appear to be happening on the star's surface and not in surrounding gas and dust.

Magnesia's extreme magnetic fields, trillions of times more powerful than Ear t.h's, can sometimes experience violent episodes that release energetic blasts. Zhang stated that FRBs are being detected by astronomers who study them. This could be either the initial explosion or when powerful shock waves are produced by such bursts.

FRB 121102 occasionally had explosive events that occurred in rapid succession, just a few thousandth of a second apart. Zhang explained that this means they could not have originated from surrounding dust and gas. He explained that such interstellar material would take time to heat up and fire off radio waves, but then cool down again before it can release another burst. This process can occur multiple times, but it takes only a few thousandths of an second.

Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysicist from McGill University in Montreal, said that "somehow, this source [is] very, very good at bursting." She is not involved in the new research but studies FRBs. It does it as part of its existence.

It is possible that repeating FRBs could be producing large numbers of outbursts. FAST's amazing sensitivity was what allowed the team to capture so much activity at FRB 121102.

Although the data support the magnetic interpretation of FRBs, it is known that they produce such energetic bursts so the results are not yet conclusive. Kaspi explained to Live Science. The last year's magnetar in our galaxy didn't produce so many blasts in such a short period of time. She suggested that this could be due to the fact that it is older and may have more youthful magnetars than FRB 121102.

Kaspi stated that "the question is now for scientists," who must determine if young magnetars can burst repeatedly in this manner.

Original publication on Live Science