The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date.

Strong energy outbursts that are repeated like a heartbeat are detected billions of light-years from Earth

A mysterious object billions of light-years from Earth emits strong bursts of energy in a pattern resembling a heartbeat.

A team of astronomers, led by Massachusetts The Institute of Technology (MIT), picked up what is formally known as fast radio bursts (FRB), which are intense radio waves that usually last a few milliseconds.

However, the newly discovered FRB lasts for up to three seconds – about 1,000 times longer than average.

The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date.

Although scientists are uncertain about the source, they suspect that the signal originates from a radio pulsar or a magnet, both of which are types of neutron stars – extremely dense, rapidly spinning collapsed nuclei of giant stars.

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The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date.

The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected to date.

The first FRB was discovered in 2007, triggering a hunt to find the source and hopefully reveal secrets about the space between galaxies by studying the path of the signal.

Daniele Michilli, postdoc at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said in a statement: ‘There are not many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals.

‘Examples that we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce a radiant emission similar to a lighthouse.

“And we think this new signal could be a magnet or a pulse on steroids.”

The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope (pictured).  This FRB lasts up to three seconds - about 1,000 times longer than average

The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope (pictured). This FRB lasts up to three seconds – about 1,000 times longer than average

Rapid radio eruptions – described as “short and mysterious signals” – have been detected in different and distant parts of the universe, as well as in our own galaxy.

Their origin is unknown and their appearance is unpredictable.

The discovery of FRB 20191221A was made by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope.

CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment), located in British Columbia, Canada, has four 328-foot U-shaped cylinders, enabling it to detect signals from when the universe was between six and 11 billion years old.

And this telescope has almost quadrupled the number of fast radio bursts discovered so far.

The pattern for FRB 20191221A’s radio bursts turned out to have similarities with emissions from radio pulsars and magnets in our own galaxy.

Radio pulsars are neutron stars that emit rays of radio waves, which appear to pulsate as the star rotates, while a similar emission is produced by magnetars due to their extreme magnetic fields.

The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected so far (stock photo)

The signal, marked FRB 20191221A, is currently the longest lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern detected so far (stock photo)

The biggest difference between the new signal and radio emissions from our own galactic pulsars and magnets is that FRB 20191221A appears to be more than a million times brighter.

Michilli said the bright flashes could come from a distant radio pulse or magnets that are normally less bright when rotating and for some unknown reason threw out a train of luminous showers, “in a rare three-second window that CHIME was fortunately placed to capture,” he continued.

“CHIME has now discovered many FRBs with different characteristics,” said Michilli.

“We have seen some living inside clouds that are very turbulent, while others appear to be in clean environments.

“From the properties of this new signal, we can say that around this source there is a cloud of plasma that must be extremely turbulent.”

Astronomers hope to capture additional bursts of periodic FRB 20191221A, which could help limit the sign’s source and learn more about neutron stars.

“This discovery raises the question of what can cause this extreme signal that we have never seen before, and how can we use this signal to study the universe,” Michilli said.

“Future telescopes promise to detect thousands of FRBs per month, and by that time we can find many more of these periodic signals.”

WHAT IS THE CHIME TELESCOPE?

Image from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaboration shows the radio telescope CHIME

Image from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaboration shows the radio telescope CHIME

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (Chime) is a radio telescope in Canada.

£ 12.2 million ($ 16 million) in funding, CHIME sits in the mountains of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley at the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton.

It contains four 100-meter-long (328-foot) U-shaped cylinders, which allow it to detect signals from when the universe was between 6 and 11 billion years old.

With their U-shaped cylinders of metal mesh, the experts have compared it with halfpipes used by snowboarders and skateboarders.

CHIME is a stationary set, without moving parts. The telescope receives radio signals every day from half the sky as the earth rotates.

While most radio astronomy is done by turning a large bowl to focus light from different parts of the sky, CHIME, motionless, stares at the sky.

It focuses on incoming signals using a correlator – a powerful digital signal processor that can work through huge amounts of data, at a speed of about 7 terabits per second, which corresponds to a few percent of the world’s Internet traffic.

“Digital signal processing is what enables CHIME to reconstruct and ‘look’ in thousands of directions simultaneously,” said Kiyoshi Masui, associate professor of physics at MIT.

“That’s what helps us detect FRB a thousand times more often than a traditional telescope.”

Its unique design, along with advanced computing power, will act as a “time machine” to look deep into the history of the universe.

CHIME collects radio waves with wavelengths between 37 and 75 centimeters.

Most of these signals come from the Milky Way, but some began their journey billions of years ago.

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