They're called fast radio bursts, or FRBs, and these odd, fleeting signals from space are shrouded in mystery. But thanks to Canada's largest radio telescope, astrophysicists are discovering more of them in their search to learn what makes these objects tick.
The first FRB was discovered in 2007 by an astrophysicist and his student while going through 2001 data collected from the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Since then, dozens more have been detected. As to what is causing these signals, scientists have yet to learn.
But these brief signals that are crossing the universe — and last only a millisecond or so — had another surprise: some of them repeated.
The first of these repeaters was discovered by McGill PhD student Paul Scholz in 2015. A second one was discovered last January. And the list is getting longer.
In a new study, submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters and pre-printed on arXiv.org, a group of Canadian scientists reveal that the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope detected eight more repeating FRBs.
The findings are an important step in better understanding what is creating these powerful signals and where exactly they're coming from.
"The first biggest conclusion [from the paper] is that this is not an anomalous phenomenon. This is for real," said Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysicist at McGill University and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). "It just takes time and patience to find them. And two, it offers the opportunity to localize them, and that's huge in the FRB field."
The CHIME instrument cannot be both sensitive and precise in its detections, which means it cannot localize the signal. Instead, its job is to find as many as it can. Determining their exact location is up to other telescopes.