Radio signals from space: Astronomers investigate new radio bursts from a bizarre star
Unidentified radio signals reaching the Earth from all parts of the cosmos have fascinated astronomers since the discovery of so-called Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) in 2007. These highly unusual radio bursts only last a fraction of a second and travel billions of light-years to reach the Earth. Their discovery has prompted many astronomers to consider an extraterrestrial origin although the likelihood of FRBs being a form of alien communication is low. Now, astronomers in India have identified a new form of radio burst reaching Earth from a distant star, adding more mystery to the phenomenon.
In a research paper pre-published on Cornell University’s arXiv website, astronomers reported the discovery of the “first-ever magnetar” to emit radio signals.
A magnetar is an unusual form of neutron star that is surrounded by an immensely powerful magnetic field.
According to US space agency NASA, the stars have a relatively slow spin and can occasionally blast out large amounts of X-ray radiation.
Now, astronomers using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune, India, have found the stars can emit radio blasts.
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In their study, the paper’s authors wrote: “XTE J1810-197 was the first ever magnetar which was found to emit transient radio emission.
“It has recently undergone another radio and high-energy outburst.
“This is only the second radio outburst that has been observed from this source.
“We observed J1810-197 soon after its recent radio outburst at low radio frequencies using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope.”
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According to the study, the magnetar XTE J1810-197 is showing signs of strong and narrow radio bursts.
Astronomers first detected radio bursts from the neutron star in 2004, after an initial strong X-ray blast in 2003.
The discovery, the authors said, could be linked to the enigmatic Fast Radio Burst phenomenon.
They wrote: “We show that the bursts have a characteristic intrinsic width of the order of 0.5-0.7 ms, and discuss their properties in the context of giant pulses and giant micropulses from other pulsars.
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“We also show that the bursts exhibit spectral structures which cannot be explained by interstellar propagation effects.
“These structures might indicate a phenomenological link with the repeating fast radio bursts which also show interesting, more detailed frequency structures.”
FRBs have fascinated hopeful astronomers because of their potential link to alien civilisations.
In June this year, Professor Abraham Loeb from the University of Harvard told Express.co.uk an alien origin for FRBs cannot be ignored.
However, astronomers behind the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, believe astronomical events such as colliding black holes are a more likely explanation.