Fast radio bursts, which last mere milliseconds yet generate as much energy as the Sun does in an entire day, have remained something of an enigma since their discovery back in 2007.
Now at last, we may be on the verge of explaining what is producing these phenomena thanks to a team of astronomers who have pinpointed the source of a burst that was detected back in April.
Using data from two separate observatories in North America, the team managed to trace the burst back to a magnetar – a highly magnetized dead star – situated 30,000 light years away.
A type of neutron star, these dense, compact objects have magnetic fields trillions of times more intense than that of the Earth.
The fast radio burst itself lasted a mere fraction of a second but was highly luminous.
“Given the source distance, this is the most luminous radio burst ever detected in our own galaxy,” said Daniele Michilli, who is one of the team working at British Columbia’s Chime telescope.
“The luminosity is still lower than that of fast radio bursts (coming from outside our Milky Way), but it demonstrates that magnetars can release a huge amount of radio energy with properties like those of FRBs, implying that at least [some] FRBs are probably coming from magnetars.”