Mysterious radio bursts from space ‘repeat in pattern lasting 157 days’

Rob Waugh
The team was led by researchers from Jodrell Bank. (Getty)

Astronomers have spotted a mysterious radio burst from space, which repeats in a regular pattern lasting 157 days.

Fast radio bursts are bright pulses of radio emission just milliseconds in duration, but incredibly energetic, detected by telescopes on Earth.

Researchers at Jodrell Bank analysed the source of a ‘fast radio burst’, or FRB, and found that it follows a cyclic pattern lasting 157 days. 

Analysing 32 bursts, researchers noticed bursts observed in a window lasting approximately 90 days followed by a silent period of 67 days.

Read more: What are fast radio bursts, and why do they look like aliens?

Theories of what causes the bursts range from highly magnetized neutron stars blasted by a nearby supermassive black hole… to signatures of technology developed by advanced civilisations.

The presence of a repeating pattern could imply that the powerful bursts are linked to the orbital motion of a massive star, a neutron star or a black hole.

Could the mysterious bursts come from orbiting neutron stars. (Getty)

Dr Kaustubh Rajwade, of the University of Manchester, who led the research, said: "This is an exciting result as it is only the second system where we believe we see this modulation in burst activity. 

“Detecting a periodicity provides an important constraint on the origin of the bursts and the activity cycles could argue against a precessing neutron star."

Read more: Telescope detects 100 mysterious radio signals from billions of light years away

The existence of FRBs was only discovered in 2007 and they were initially thought to be one-off events related to a cataclysmic event such as an exploding star. 

This picture partly changed once FRB 121102, originally discovered with the Arecibo radio telescope on November 2 2012, was seen to repeat in 2016. 

Professor Benjamin Stappers, who leads the MeerTRAP project to hunt for FRBs using the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa, said: “This result relied on the regular monitoring possible with the Lovell Telescope, and non-detections were just as important as the detections.”

In a new paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the team confirm that FRB 121102 is the second repeating source of FRBs to display such periodic activity. 

To their surprise, the timescale for this cycle is almost 10 times longer than the 16-day periodicity exhibited by the first repeating source, FRB 180916.J10158+56, which was recently discovered by the CHIME telescope in Canada.

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