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Charles Q. Choi reports that in 2016, scientists discovered that a fast radio burst known as FRB 121102 could release multiple bursts. "It is the only known repeating fast radio burst source," study co-lead author Jason Hessels, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam, told Space.com. That FRB 121102 can explode over and over again suggests it does not come from some one-time cataclysmic event, Hessels said. "A key question in the field is whether this repeating fast radio burst source is fundamentally different compared to all the other apparently non-repeating sources," he said.


To learn more about this FRB, scientists used the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to analyze data on 16 bursts from object. FRB 121102 is located in a star-forming region of a dwarf galaxy found about 3 billion light-years from Earth, Hessels said. Because astronomers can see it from such a great distance, the amount of energy in a single millisecond of each of these bursts must be about as much as the sun releases in an entire day, Hessels and his colleagues said in a statement.


When radio waves pass through a magnetized plasma, or cloud of electrically charged particles, the direction in which they are polarized can twist, an effect known as Faraday rotation. Hessels and his colleagues found that FRB 121102's radio bursts were more than 500 times more twisted than those from any other FRB to date.  "I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw the data. Such extreme Faraday rotation is extremely rare," Hessels said in the statement. This extreme twisting suggests that FRB 121102's bursts passed through an extraordinarily hot plasma with an extremely strong magnetic field. Such plasmas might exist near either a black hole more than 10,000 times the mass of the sun or the remnant of a supernova, the researchers said.


"Hessels  and many others would love to know whether this fast radio burst phenomenon has a single or multiple physical origins." "There is a whole host of telescopes coming online in the next few years that promise to discover many more such sources and to answer these questions." The scientists detailed their findings in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Nature if you want to pay for it ($$$$).


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