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Mysterious fast radio bursts come in two distinct flavours

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2021-06-10 23:00:07

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The CHIME radio telescope has detected 535 fast radio bursts in its first year of operation. Credit: Andre Renard/CHIME Collaboration

A radio telescope in Canada has detected 535 fast radio bursts, quadrupling the known tally of these brief, highly energetic phenomena in one go. The long-awaited results show that these enigmatic events come in two distinct types — with most bursts being one-offs, and a minority repeating periodically and lasting at least ten times longer than average.

The findings1 strongly suggest that fast radio bursts could be the result of at least two distinct astrophysical phenomena. “I think this really just nails it that there is a difference,” says study co-author Kiyo Masui, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

The overnight jump in the available data has put the radio astronomy community into a tizzy. “I woke up this morning and all my Slack channels were full of people talking about the papers,” says Laura Spitler, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, who co-discovered the first repeating burst2 in 2016 using the now-collapsed Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.

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