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The Mystery of Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Deepens

With many mysteries it seems that the more you learn, the less you know. That is certainly the case with the fast radio bursts which burst onto the astronomy scene just a few years ago as technological improvements aided in their discovery and the ability to see them as they happen rather than after the fact. Early reports showed them as one-off events, but the ability to trace some back to their home galaxies has uncovered so-called ‘repeaters’ which burst more than once. In February 2020, one repeater was discovered to maintain a regular 16-day schedule. Just months later, astronomers have found a second regular repeater – this one (named FRB 121102) on a strange 157-day schedule with 90 days of bursting followed by 67 days of silence. Does it take so much energy to burst that the star/black hole/alien/something else needs to rest?

I need a break

“Detecting a periodicity provides an important constraint on the origin of the bursts and the activity cycles could argue against a precessing neutron star.”

In a university of Manchester press release announcing the discovery, which came from the university’s Jodrell Bank observatory, Dr Kaustubh Rajwade – who led the research and was lead writer on the research paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society – explains that this long 157-day schedule all but eliminates a precessing neutron star (a wobbly collapsed star too small to make a black hole) as a possible source. So what could it be? (Aliens? Please say aliens.) Well, this discovery only eliminates precessing neutron stars but it doesn’t affirm nor eliminate any others.

That’s means ‘aliens’ is still on the board, right?

As usual with these studies, the conclusion is that more studies are needed. However, there’s some good news about FRB 121102.

“Our best-fitting parameters suggest that the next two activity periods should occur in the MJD ranges 59002−59089 (2020 June 2 to 2020 August 28) and 59158–59246 (2020 November 5 to 2021 February 1).”

FRB 121102 is scheduled to start fast bursting again now and later this year. Coupled with the fact that astronomers now know exactly where to look, the team encourages any and all with the proper equipment to aim it at FRB 121102 to confirm or dispute their conclusion and, more importantly, to make new discoveries and conclusions.

Will any of them determine that aliens are creating the FRB 121102 bursts? It’s still on the board.

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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