International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is a Fast Radio Burst (FRB)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fast Radio Burst (FRB)

Mains level : Hunt for extra-terrestrial life

NASA has reported that it observed a mix of X-ray and radio signals never observed before in the Milky Way.

Such news makes us think about alien and extraterrestrial life at the first. Do not get carried away with such thoughts. Its simply a space based phenomena.

What is an FRB?

  • The first FRB was discovered in 2007, since when scientists have been working towards finding the source of their origin.
  • Essentially, FRBs are bright bursts of radio waves (radio waves can be produced by astronomical objects with changing magnetic fields).
  • Its durations lie in the millisecond-scale, because of which it is difficult to detect them and determine their position in the sky.

Who discovered it?

  • The X-ray portion of the simultaneous bursts was detected by several satellites, including NASA’s Wind mission.
  • Further, a NASA-funded project called Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2) also detected the radio burst.

Why are they significant?

  • First noticed in 2018 by the Canadian observatory the waves have created ripples across the globe for one reason — they arrive in a pattern.
  • This gave birth to theories that they could be from an alien civilization.
  • Initially, it was believed that the collision of black holes or neutron stars triggers them.
  • But the discovery of repeating FRBs debunked the theory of colliding objects.

What is the origin of the FRB detected in April?

  • The source of the FRB detected in April in the Milky Way is a very powerful magnetic neutron star, referred to as a magnetar.
  • Magnetar is located in the constellation Vulpecula and is estimated to be between 14,000-41,000 light-years away.
  • The FRB was part of one of the magnetar’s most prolific flare-ups, with the X-ray bursts lasting less than a second.

What is a magnetar?

  • A magnetar is a neutron star, “the crushed, city-size remains of a star many times more massive than our Sun.”
  • The magnetic field of such a star is very powerful, which can be over 10 trillion times stronger than a refrigerator magnet and up to a thousand times stronger than typical neutron stars.
  • Neutron stars are formed when the core of a massive star undergoes gravitational collapse when it reaches the end of its life.
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