Mysterious Cosmic Flashes Pinpointed to a Stunning Location in Area – “Closest Ever”

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Extremely Fast Radio Signals

Extraordinarily quick radio alerts from a stunning supply. A cluster of historical stars (left) near the spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M81) is the supply of terribly vibrant and quick radio alerts. The picture exhibits in blue-white a graph of how one flash’s brightness modified over the course of solely tens of microseconds. Credit score: Daniëlle Futselaar, artsource.nl

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Astronomers have been stunned by the closest supply of mysterious flashes within the sky referred to as quick radio bursts. Precision measurements with radio telescopes reveal that the bursts are made amongst outdated stars, and in a method that nobody was anticipating. The supply of the flashes, in close by spiral galaxy M 81, is the closest of its type to Earth.

Quick radio bursts are unpredictable, extraordinarily quick flashes of sunshine from area. Astronomers have struggled to know them ever since they have been first found in 2007. To date, they’ve solely ever been seen by radio telescopes.

Every flash lasts solely thousandths of a second. But every one sends out as a lot vitality because the Solar provides out in a day. A number of hundred flashes go off daily, and so they have been seen all around the sky. Most lie at big distances from Earth, in galaxies billions of light-years away.

In two papers revealed in parallel this week within the journals Nature and Nature Astronomy, a world staff of astronomers current observations that take scientists a step nearer to fixing the thriller – whereas additionally elevating new puzzles. The staff is led collectively by Franz Kirsten (Chalmers, Sweden, and ASTRON, Netherlands) and Kenzie Nimmo (ASTRON and College of Amsterdam).

Magnetar in Cluster of Ancient Stars

Supply of mysterious radio alerts: an artist’s impression of a magnetar in a cluster of historical stars (in purple) near the spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M81). Credit score: Daniëlle Futselaar, artsource.nl

The scientists got down to make high-precision measurements of a repeating burst supply found in January 2020 within the constellation of Ursa Main, the Nice Bear.

“We needed to search for clues to the bursts’ origins. Utilizing many radio telescopes collectively, we knew we might pinpoint the supply’s location within the sky with excessive precision. That provides the chance to see what the native neighborhood of a quick radio burst seems to be like,” says Franz Kirsten.

To review the supply on the highest doable decision and sensitivity, the scientists mixed measurements from telescopes within the European VLBI Community (EVN). By combining knowledge from 12 dish antennas unfold throughout half the globe, Sweden, Latvia, The Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Poland, Italy, and China, they have been capable of finding out precisely the place within the sky they have been coming from.

The EVN measurements have been complemented with knowledge from a number of different telescopes, amongst them the Karl G. Jansky Very Giant Array (VLA) in New Mexico, USA.

Shut however stunning location

After they analyzed their measurements, the astronomers found that the repeated radio flashes have been coming from someplace nobody had anticipated. They traced the bursts to the outskirts of the close by spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M 81), about 12 million light-years away. That makes this the closest-ever detection of a supply of quick radio bursts.

There was one other shock in retailer. The situation matched precisely with a dense cluster of very outdated stars, generally known as a globular cluster.

“It’s wonderful to search out quick radio bursts from a globular cluster. It is a place in area the place you solely discover outdated stars. Additional out within the universe, quick radio bursts have been present in locations the place stars are a lot youthful. This needed to be one thing else,” says Kenzie Nimmo.

Many quick radio bursts have been discovered surrounded by younger, huge stars, a lot greater than the Solar. In these places, star explosions are frequent and depart behind extremely magnetized remnants. Scientists have come to imagine that quick radio bursts may be created in objects generally known as magnetars. Magnetars are the extraordinarily dense remnants of stars which have exploded. And they’re the universe’s strongest identified magnets.

“We count on magnetars to be shiny and new, and positively not surrounded by outdated stars. So if what we’re right here actually is a magnetar, then it could’t have been fashioned from a younger star exploding. There needs to be one other method,” says staff member Jason Hessels, College of Amsterdam and ASTRON.

The scientists imagine that the supply of the radio flashes is one thing that has been predicted, however by no means seen earlier than: a magnetar that fashioned when a white dwarf became massive enough to collapse under its own weight.

“Strange things happen in the multi-billion-year life of a tight cluster of stars. Here we think we’re seeing a star with an unusual story,” explains Franz Kirsten.

Given time, ordinary stars like the Sun grow old and transform into small, dense, bright objects called white dwarfs. Many stars in the cluster live together in binary systems. Of the tens of thousands of stars in the cluster, a few get close enough that one star collects material from the other.

That can lead to a scenario known as “accretion-induced collapse,” Kirsten explains.

“If one of the white dwarfs can catch enough extra mass from its companion, it can turn into an even denser star, known as a neutron star. That’s a rare occurrence, but in a cluster of ancient stars, it’s the simplest way of making fast radio bursts,” says team member Mohit Bhardwaj, McGill University, Canada.

Fastest ever

Looking for further clues by zooming into their data, the astronomers found another surprise. Some of the flashes were even shorter than they had expected.

“The flashes flickered in brightness within as little as a few tens of nanoseconds. That tells us that they must be coming from a tiny volume in space, smaller than a soccer pitch and perhaps only tens of meters across,” says Kenzie Nimmo.

Similarly, lightning-fast signals have been seen from one of the sky’s most famous objects, the Crab pulsar. It is a tiny, dense, remnant of a supernova explosion that was seen from Earth in 1054 CE in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. Both magnetars and pulsars are different kinds of neutron stars: super-dense objects with the mass of the Sun in a volume the size of a city, and with strong magnetic fields.

“Some of the signals we measured are short and extremely powerful, in just the same way as some signals from the Crab pulsar. That suggests that we are indeed seeing a magnetar, but in a place that magnetars haven’t been found before,” says Kenzie Nimmo.

Future observations of this system and others will help to tell whether the source really is an unusual magnetar, or something else, like an unusual pulsar or a black hole and a dense star in a close orbit.

“These fast radio bursts seem to be giving us new and unexpected insight into how stars live and die. If that’s true, they could, like supernovae, have things to tell us about stars and their lives across the whole universe,” says Franz Kirsten.

References:

“A repeating fast radio burst source in a globular cluster” by F. Kirsten, B. Marcote, K. Nimmo, J. W. T. Hessels, M. Bhardwaj, S. P. Tendulkar, A. Keimpema, J. Yang, M. P. Snelders, P. Scholz, A. B. Pearlman, C. J. Law, W. M. Peters, M. Giroletti, Z. Paragi, C. Bassa, D. M. Hewitt, U. Bach, V. Bezrukovs, M. Burgay, S. T. Buttaccio, J. E. Conway, A. Corongiu, R. Feiler, O. Forssén, M. P. Gawroński, R. Karuppusamy, M. A. Kharinov, M. Lindqvist, G. Maccaferri, A. Melnikov, O. S. Ould-Boukattine, A. Possenti, G. Surcis, N. Wang, J. Yuan, K. Aggarwal, R. Anna-Thomas, G. C. Bower, R. Blaauw, S. Burke-Spolaor, T. Cassanelli, T. E. Clarke, E. Fonseca, B. M. Gaensler, A. Gopinath, V. M. Kaspi, N. Kassim, T. J. W. Lazio, C. Leung, D. Z. Li, H. H. Lin, K. W. Masui, R. Mckinven, D. Michilli, A. G. Mikhailov, C. Ng, A. Orbidans, U. L. Pen, E. Petroff, M. Rahman, S. M. Ransom, K. Shin, K. M. Smith, I. H. Stairs and W. Vlemmings, 23 February 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04354-w

“Burst timescales and luminosities as links between young pulsars and fast radio bursts” by K. Nimmo, J. W. T. Hessels, F. Kirsten, A. Keimpema, J. M. Cordes, M. P. Snelders, D. M. Hewitt, R. Karuppusamy, A. M. Archibald, V. Bezrukovs, M. Bhardwaj, R. Blaauw, S. T. Buttaccio, T. Cassanelli, J. E. Conway, A. Corongiu, R. Feiler, E. Fonseca, O. Forssén, M. Gawroński, M. Giroletti, M. A. Kharinov, C. Leung, M. Lindqvist, G. Maccaferri, B. Marcote, K. W. Masui, R. Mckinven, A. Melnikov, D. Michilli, A. G. Mikhailov, C. Ng, A. Orbidans, O. S. Ould-Boukattine, Z. Paragi, A. B. Pearlman, E. Petroff, M. Rahman, P. Scholz, K. Shin, K. M. Smith, I. H. Stairs, G. Surcis, S. P. Tendulkar, W. Vlemmings, N. Wang, J. Yang and J. P. Yuan, 23 February 2022, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01569-9

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