Astronomers Detect Short, Intense Radio Burst From Relatively Nearby in the Milky Way

Magnetar in Outburst

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Artist’s impression of a magnetar in outburst, revealing intricate electromagnetic field structure and beamed emission, here pictured as following a crust splitting episode. Credit: McGill University Graphic Design Team

Close distance of high energy pulse recommends magnetars might be at the origin of some quick radio bursts.

New information from a Canadian-led group of astronomers, consisting of scientists from the McGill Space Institute and McGill University Department of Physics, highly recommend that magnetars — a kind of neutron star thought to have a very effective electromagnetic field — might be the source of some quick radio bursts (FRBs). Though much research study has actually been done to describe the strange phenomenon, their source has so far stayed evasive and the topic of some argument.

First detection of an extreme radio burst from a Galactic magnetar

On April 28, 2020, a group of roughly 50 trainees, postdocs and teachers from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) Fast Radio Burst Collaboration discovered an uncommonly extreme radio burst originating from a close-by magnetar situated in the Milky Way. In a research study released today in Nature, they reveal that the strength of the radio burst was 3 thousand times higher than that of any magnetar determined so far, providing weight to the theory that magnetars are at the origin of a minimum of some FRBs.

“We calculated that such an intense burst coming from another galaxy would be indistinguishable from some fast radio bursts, so this really gives weight to the theory suggesting that magnetars could be behind at least some FRBs,” stated Pragya Chawla, among the co-authors on the research study and a senior PhD trainee in the Physics Department at McGill.

Competing theories about the origins of FRBs

FRBs were very first found over a years back. Originally believed to be particular occasions, astronomers have actually because found that a few of these high-intensity blasts of radio emissions — more extreme than the energy produced by the Sun over millions to billions of years — in reality repeat.

One theory assumed FRBs to be extragalactic magnetars — young very magnetic neutron stars that sometimes flare to launch massive quantities of energy.

“So far, all of the FRBs that telescopes like CHIME have picked up were in other galaxies, which makes them quite hard to study in great detail,” stated Ziggy Pleunis, a senior PhD trainee in McGill’s Physics department and among the co-authors of the brand-new research study. “Moreover, the magnetar theory was not supported by observations of magnetars in our own galaxy as they were found to be far less intense than the energy released by extragalactic FRBs until now.”

Magnetar origin for all FRBs stays to be validated

“However, given the large gaps in energetics and activity between the brightest and most active FRB sources and what is observed for magnetars, perhaps younger, more energetic and active magnetars are needed to explain all FRB observations,” included Dr. Paul Scholz from the Dunlap Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

Smoking-weapon evidence of a magnetar origin for some FRBs would originate from the synchronised detection of an extragalactic radio burst and an X-ray burst. However, this will likely just be possible for neighboring FRBs. Fortunately, CHIME/FRB is finding these in great numbers.


Reference: “A bright millisecond-duration radio burst from a Galactic magnetar” by the CHIME/FRB Collaboration, 4 November 2020, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2863-y

The research study was moneyed by:

The CHIME/FRB Project is moneyed by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Provinces of British Columbia and Québec, and the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astro-physics at the University of Toronto. Additional assistance was offered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), McGill University and the McGill Space Institute by means of the Trottier Family Foundation, and the University of British Columbia. CHIME is moneyed by a grant from the CFI Leading Edge Fund and by contributions from the provinces British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. The Dunlap Institute is moneyed by an endowment developed by the David Dunlap household and the University of Toronto. Research at Perimeter Institute is supported by the Government of Canada through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and by the Province of Ontario through the Ministry of Research & Innovation. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a center of the National Science Foundation run under cooperative arrangement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Additional funds were gotten from the Fonds de Recherche Nature et Technologie Québec (FRQNT), a Killam Fellowship, an NSERC Discovery Grant, CIFAR, the FRQNT Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Quebec (CRAQ), the Canada Research Chairs program, NSF, the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics & Cosmology, a Distinguished James McGill Professorship, an NSERC Discovery Grant, a Gerhard Herzberg Award, an R. Howard Webster Foundation Fellowship from CIFAR, a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, an NSF Physics Frontiers Center award, the Ontario Research Fund—research study Excellence Program (ORF-RE), the Simons Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, a Schulich Graduate Fellowship from McGill University, a Dunlap Fellowship and an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship.

About the CHIME Fast Radio Burst Collaboration

CHIME/FRB is a cooperation of over 50 researchers led by McGill University, University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). The $16-million financial investment for CHIME was offered by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the federal governments of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, with extra financing from the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. The telescope lies in the mountains of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley at the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton. CHIME is an authorities Square Kilometre Array (SKA) pathfinder center.

About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill is a leading Canadian post-secondary organization. It has 2 schools, 11 professors, 13 expert schools, 300 programs of research study and over 40,000 trainees, consisting of more than 10,200 college students. McGill brings in trainees from over 150 nations worldwide, its 12,800 global trainees comprising 31% percent of the trainee body. Over half of McGill trainees declare a mother tongue aside from English, consisting of roughly 19% of our trainees who state French is their native tongue.

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