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Inside the Lair of a Mysterious Cosmic Radio Burster

A flash from the Fast Radio Burst source FRB 121102 travelling towards the 100-metre Green Bank telescope in the USA.  The burst shows a complicated structure, with multiple peaks that may be created during the burst’s emission or imparted during its 3-billion-light-year journey to us. This burst was detected using a new recording system developed by the Breakthrough Listen project. Credit: Danielle Futselaar/Shutterstock

A flash from the Fast Radio Burst source FRB 121102 travelling towards the 100-metre Green Bank telescope in the USA.  The burst shows a complicated structure, with multiple peaks that may be created during the burst’s emission or imparted during its 3-billion-light-year journey to us. This burst was detected using a new recording system developed by the Breakthrough Listen project. Credit: Danielle Futselaar/Shutterstock

By Charlotte Sobey

Two of the world’s largest radio telescopes have unveiled the astonishingly extreme and unusual environment of a mysterious source of repeating radio bursts emanating from 3 billion light-years away.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Once every 10 seconds, mysterious astrophysical objects blast swift, sudden radio flashes from across deep space. We call these signals “fast radio bursts’ (FRBs). New observations from two of the world’s largest radio telescopes have led us to a remarkable discovery about a unique FRB factory. We found that the source is embedded in a hot, dense environment with an exceptionally strong magnetic field. A compelling explanation is that it is situated in the neighbourhood of a massive black hole (https://goo.gl/NC1BKw).

The detection of this unique FRB, formally known as FRB 121102 or informally as the “Spitler burst” after its discoverer (https://goo.gl/KcD7MS), was a breakthrough for FRB science. It is the only FRB signal that keeps repeating. All other FRBs found so far have been single, millisecond, flash-in-the-pan events, even after hundreds of hours of follow-up observations. FRB 121102 provided us with an exclusive chance to carefully monitor and scrutinise the signals.

Last year we were able to pinpoint the source of FRB 121102 to a dwarf galaxy, much smaller than our own Milky Way, more than 3 billion light-years away. At this distance, an immense amount of energy must power each burst – roughly as much energy in a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.