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Mysterious 'Fast Radio Bursts' may Originate Closer to Home Than we Thought

| Dec 13, 2013 03:10 PM EST

"Fast radio bursts" are a recently-discovered and mysterious phenomenon; new research suggest the "chirps" may come from stars within our own galaxy.

The radio pulses were discovered in 2007, they last for only about a thousandth of a second. The bursts look like the come from far-off space, but a recent suggests they may originate closer to home, a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics news release reported.

"We propose that fast radio bursts aren't as exotic as astronomers first thought," lead author Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said.

Only six of the bright bursts have ever been observed by scientists; the phenomenon is extremely difficult to study because it lasts for such a short period of time.

A recent data analysis revealed "pulses passed through a large column of electrons on their way to Earth."

If the electrons were spread around intergalactic space it would mean the short bursts would have to travel billions of light years; this means they must have been spawned from "extremely energetic" events. Gamma ray bursts do not produce the correct frequencies for this to be possible

The team decided to toy with the theory that the bursts originated from somewhere inside the Milky Way; if they originated nearby they would not need as much energy to travel the short distance.

The team thought maybe the bursts could originate in stellar flares, when "tightly packed electrons in the stellar corona would cause the same effect as the more diffuse intergalactic electrons."

Both younger low-mass stars and "solar-mass 'contact' binaries" are known to produce radio bursts. The team looked at the locations of three of the fast radio bursts.

"It was straightforward to monitor these fields for several nights, to see if they showed anything unusual," Dani Maoz of Tel Aviv University said.

"We were surprised that, apparently, no one had done this before," Yossi Shvartzvald, a graduate student who led the observations added.

The team discovered a binary system (two Sun-like stars orbiting each other) about 2,600 light-years from Earth.

Whenever we find a new class of sources, we debate whether they are close or far away," Loeb said. "Here we have exactly the opposite." 

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