Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are rapid flashes of radio waves from deep space that are as intense as they are mysterious.
Astronomers have now been able to trace the origin of the most powerful and distant FRB ever to a coherent cluster of seven galaxies, giving researchers insight into the variety of environments that could generate such strange emission of light.
This explosion, called FRB 20220610A, is coming from somewhere inside the cluster, according to new images from… Hubble Space Telescope The analysis was conducted by an international team of researchers, suggesting that their interactions could play a role in creating the explosion.
This particular transmission refused to fit into some of the most widely accepted theories we have about how the universe works, giving astrophysicists pause to think about the kinds of conditions under which fast radio bursts might form.
“Without Hubble imaging, it would remain a mystery whether this fast radio burst originated from a single, homogeneous galaxy or from some kind of interacting system.” He says Astronomer Alexa Gordon, from Northwestern University.
“It's these kinds of environments — these exotic environments — that are pushing us toward a better understanding of the mystery of fast radio bursts.”
To give you an idea of how far these fast radio bursts have traveled, the universe is now about 13.8 billion years old; The signal we receive from FRB 20220610A comes from a point when the universe was only 5 billion years old.
From early observations, the amorphous bubble visible near the source of the fast radio burst made researchers believe multiple galaxies might be involved. But the number seven was a surprise. These galaxies are also tightly connected, and could all fit into our own galaxy milky way.
These galaxies being in such close proximity mean that they are likely interacting with each other in certain ways. If stars form in rapid succession, this could be one explanation for the strength of fast radio bursts.
“There is some evidence that group members are interacting.” He says Astrophysicist Wen Fei Fung, of Northwestern University. “In other words, they could be trading materials or perhaps on their way to merging.”
“These clusters of galaxies, called compact clusters, are incredibly rare environments in the universe and are the densest galactic structures we know of.”
Fast radio bursts continue to surprise and intrigue scientists, with changes in their signals and questions about their source. Right now, the best guess is that it emerges from a cosmic object such as a neutron star or a black hole.
This study is another reminder that as our telescopes improve, enabling us to see space with higher and higher resolution, we should be able to answer more questions about these mysterious signals.
“With a larger sample of distant FRBs, we can begin to study the evolution of FRBs and their host characteristics by linking them to nearby ones and perhaps even begin to identify more exotic populations.” He says Dong.
The research is available on the preprint server arXiv.
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