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A fast radio burst was detected from 3 billion light-years away

Radio signals have been detected from the other side of the universe. What does this mean?

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This image from video animation provided by NASA in November 2020 depicts a powerful X-ray burst erupting from a magnetar — a supermagnetized version of a stellar remnant known as a neutron star.

Chris Smith, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center via Associated Press

Astronomers have found a unique fast radio burst that they estimate to come from a galaxy 3 billion light-years away. This is only the second time one like this has been discovered, according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

What is a fast radio burst? A fast radio burst, or FRB, are milliseconds short radio wave bursts from space. Regular radio bursts are known to emit once without repeating, but FRBs send out short radio waves multiple times, according to CNN.

  • Scientists are still figuring out what causes these bursts, but many assume the cause to be from “extreme objects,” Reuters says.

  • Some causes of a FRB could be “a neuron star, the compact collapsed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova at the end of its lifecycle; a magnetar, a type of neuron star with an ultra-strong magnetic field; and a black hole messily eating a neighborhood star,” according to Reuters.

Why does this matter? CNET called this FRB “the most remarkable example of a so-called fast radio burst from the other side of the universe.” This kind of burst has only been known to humans for about 15 years, and gives us a look into deep space.

“The FRB field is moving very fast right now and new discoveries are coming out monthly. However, big questions still remain, and this object is giving us challenging clues about those questions,” Sarah Burke-Spolaor, from Western Virginia University, told NRAO.