Since 2007, astronomers have known about a type of interstellar phenomenon called fast radio bursts, or FRBs for short. They’re bright emissions of radio waves that can generate more than 100 million times the power of the sun in the span of a few milliseconds. Up until recently, they’ve only been observed in galaxies outside of our own. But this past April, astronomers got their first-ever chance to witness FSBs occur in the Milky Way (via MIT News).
When astronomers first detected FRBs more than a decade ago, physicists hypothesized they might be produced by a special class of neutron stars called magnetars that emit a particularly powerful magnetic field. Neutron stars, if you need a refresher, are the remnants of a star that has gone supernova and seen its core collapse on itself. It turns out those suspicions are likely correct. Toward the end of April, astronomers recorded a series of FRBs they suspect originated from SGR 1935+2154, a magnetar located about 30,000 lightyears from Earth. The radio telescope that got the best glimpse of the phenomenon, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), did so at the edge of its range, leading to some uncertainty about the identity of the source.
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