The Mystery about the Fast Radio Bursts Goes on

The Mystery about the Fast Radio Bursts Goes on

Scientists make some progress about the mysterious light flashes discovered in deep space last year.

Fast Radio Burst (FRB) is an astrophysical phenomenon whose origin is still unknown to humanity. It is manifested as a high-energy radio pulse which, on average, lasts for a few milliseconds. The first occurrence of discovering an FRB was reported in 2007 when Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic were looking through archival pulsar survey data. That is the reason why it is commonly known as Lorimer Burst. Although scientists have no idea about its source, they are pretty sure that it is an extragalactic wonder.

The polarization of the FRBs indicates that they are produced in a region which has an extremely powerful magnetic field. Although we have not succeeded in determining their origin, a lot of theories have been proposed ranging from a collision between a rotating neutron star and a black hole to extraterrestrial intelligence. Since the discovery of Lorimer, a lot of them have been detected including a repeating FRB.

FRB 121102, a dwarf galaxy, is the only known repeater source as all the others have occurred only once. This repetition offered an opportunity to understand the source of this puzzling astronomical phenomenon and astronomers did manage to muster some success out of it. The localization and characterization of this repeating source revealed that it has an association with a galaxy which is at a distance of nearly 3 billion light-years. This means that it is well beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way. Similarly, it was found that it lies in an extreme environment.

On 26th August 2017, researchers working for the Breakthrough Listen project identified 21 repeating pulses of light within an hour which were emanating from the FRB 121102. A recent study looked back into this mysterious outburst of deep-space light flashes and found that it has a lot more to reveal than previously thought. The dataset gathered by the Green Bank Telescope in August 2017 was originally analyzed using traditional methods and there was plenty of room for improvement.

The team members of the Breakthrough Listen project performed the latest research at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research Center of the University of California. They applied machine-learning techniques to the August 2017 data set and found some amazing information about FRBs. Gerry Zhang, a Doctoral Student at the University of California, led a team of researchers which trained an algorithm called ‘Convolutional Neural Network’ to extract FRBs from 400 terabytes of data. Representatives of the team mentioned that IT companies use the same technique to optimize internet search results around the globe.

The researchers found a total of 93 flashes that originated from a single source on 26th August 2017. This meant that the team of Zhang managed to extract 72 additional pulses of light in their experiment. Pete Worden, the Executive Director at the Breakthrough Initiatives program, acknowledged that all the discoveries were not new. He explained that in the following words:

Not all discoveries come from new observations. In this case, it was smart, original thinking applied to an existing dataset. It has advanced our knowledge of one of the most tantalizing mysteries in astronomy.”

Despite all the findings, Zhang agreed that it is just the first step towards solving this mystery. He looked confident that the introduction of Artificial Intelligence will help us to figure out the source of FRBs. In addition to that, this approach will help us to understand what FRBs really are. He showed a lot of promise by saying,

This work is only the beginning of using these powerful methods to find radio transients. We hope our success may inspire other serious endeavors in applying machine learning to radio astronomy.”

You can have a look at these mysterious light flashes for yourself at the following link:

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