A mysterious, pulsating radio wave that astronomers have been tracking for two years has suddenly and inexplicably fallen silent.
Fast Radio Bursts are blinking radio waves that shoot out repeatedly from a single point through space.
Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy and Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope have been searching for clues about the origins of these curious radio waves.
An intergalactic mystery has recently perplexed astronomers. Fast Radio Bursts are repeating radio wave signals that shoot out across the universe, flickering for milliseconds at a time from a single origin in space. Scientists aren't exactly sure why they occur.
Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy have used the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope to track two such pulsating radio signals. The origin of one of the signals—discovered in 2012 and dubbed FRB 121102, or R1—was finally identified as a dwarf galaxy three billion light-years away from Earth. The second signal, called R2, was discovered in six years later. Astronomers haven't been able to pinpoint this signal's host galaxy.
Astronomer Leon Oostrum and his colleagues at the institute set out to monitor R1 and R2 for 130 and 300 hours, respectively, but only captured evidence of 30 bursts from R1. R2, meanwhile stayed completely silent.
Oostrum has several theories that might explain the disappearance of the signal, New Scientist reports. The most mundane theory? Perhaps the telescope simply isn't sensitive enough to pick up the frequency at which the radio waves ripple through space. (A different observatory discovered R2's bursts.)
There's also a chance that the signal has fallen silent permanently. One thing is clear: All of these signals are likely very different from each other. And it's likely that R1 and R2 don't originate in the same type of galaxy.
Clues lie within the work of another intrepid team of astronomers at the institute, led by Jason Hessels, which traced the origin galaxy of another Fast Radio Burst, called FRB 180916.J0158+65. Unlike R1's home galaxy, a lumpily-shaped dwarf galaxy, FRB 180916.J0158+65's domain is a churning spiral galaxy like the Milky Way. There's a good chance different types of galaxies emit different types of these Fast Radio Bursts.
Since these radio waves start in a galaxy much closer to Earth, the researchers hope they'll be a bit easier to study and will unlock secrets about these mysterious pulses. As for the lost signal R2? Questions still abound.
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