Scientists have identified a burst of cosmic radio waves- intense flashes of radio emission that last just a few milliseconds- within the Milky Way for the first time, and found their source.
While such fast radio bursts (FRBs) are usually detected from outside our galaxy, on April 28th, multiple telescopes homed in on a bright FRB from an area within the Milky Way. And in doing so, they were able to detect its source: galactic magnetar SGR 1935+2154. This marks the first time scientists have been able to trace the sources of FRBs.
Magnetars are young neutron stars and are known as the most magnetic objects in the universe. For quite some time, they have been suspected as the sources of such radio bursts, although until now, whether or not this was the case remained a mystery.
According to Christopher Bochenek, from the Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2, one of the teams to first spot the burst, in around a millisecond, the magnetar was able to emit as much energy as the Sun’s radio waves in 30 seconds. He added that the energy emitted was comparable to that from those outside the galaxy, strengthening the case for magnetars as the source of extragalactic FRBs too.
While as many as 10,000 FRBs are thought to happen every day, these high-energy bursts were first discovered only in 2007. A topic of hot debate ever since, their origin has been difficult to track due to their momentary flashes making it difficult to know where to look.
As such, theories of their origins have ranged from supernovas to neutron stars, as well as explanations less popular by the scientific community, including extra-terrestrial signals.
While these findings potentially solve a key piece of the puzzle revolving around FRBs, they also open up the floor to more questions. After all, it is still unknown how they occur within these magnetars.