The mystery about fast radio bursts has led scientists to join their ideas to figure out their cause.

The electromagnetic (EM) spectrum of light ranges from microwave energy (that’s the lowest energy or longest wavelength of light), radio waves, ultraviolet light, visible light (that’s what we humans can see), infrared light, x-rays, to gamma rays (that’s the highest energy or the shortest wavelength of light). The EM spectrum provide astronomers the ability to detect distant astronomical objects several lightyears away, but there’s always a catch somewhere in the universe. Fast radio bursts …


Related media: What Are Fast Radio Bursts?


What Are Fast Radio Bursts?

Since their discovery in 2007, it’s become one of the most puzzling phenomenon of modern astrophysics. These extremely bright flashes of light with the radio wavelength are very rare; lasting for only milliseconds, originating outside our galaxy, coming from regions with extremely strong magnetic fields, and could pass significant amount of gas or dust upon reaching Earth. This seems like scientists know a lot about them, but in fact, they really don’t.

For instance, they know for sure they’re not from our Milky Way Galaxy, or where exactly they come from, what causes them; and whether they might be useful as cosmological standards to measure the large scale properties of our universe. There’s been dozens of proposed theories about FRBs: some conforming with classical physics, and others being more exotic, including cosmic strings — a hypothetical one-dimensional structure formation in the early universe.

One theory suggests that aliens are responsible — nonetheless. Scientists have now created a catalogue that lists each theory together with its pros and cons, from which scientists around the world can add new data and discoveries will be added throughout the process. Some of these data will come from projects like the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperient (HIRAX), MeerKAT, and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) based in Africa, which are expected to discover and localize thousands of FRBs.

“This platform will produce a great deal of knowledge. It will also provide valuable insight into scientific sociology as international researchers work together and ultimately, we hope, identify the most acceptable model.”


The Ranging Theories

Perhaps, FRBs have received a lot of hype from astronomers, astrophysicist, cosmologists, and physicists over the years since their discovery.

Here are some of the emerging theories so far:

They are caused by neutron stars: such as pulsars, rapidly rotating neutron stars that are having extremely large magnetic fields capable of such FRBs; and are also caused by magnetars: highly magnetized neutron stars with the strongest magnetic fields in the universe. These magnetic beasts could naturally fulfill the energy requirements for FRBs.

The merging of astronomical bodies — such as black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs; the collapsing of high mass stars has been proposed as a possible origin FRBs. Some exotic theories posits the possibility of hypothetical objects like quark stars — subatomic particles that constitutes of mostly neutrons and protons. One theory also posits axion stars — an extremely less dense hypothetical subatomic particle; and the hypothetically illusive dark matter — that’s believed to account for 27 percent of the total matter content of the universe.

Another fairly improbable theory is that FRBs are lightning striking on pulsars; and finally the theory suggesting aliens which couldn’t be ruled out as a possibility. FRBs could more likely be a signal sent from a beacon by an extraterrestrial civilization. These theories are all compelling but the catch here is to reach a consensus. There are over 50 proposed theories on the topic (with three being taken off the list); and this required scientists all over the world to set up the catalog to sort them out.


Cosmic Sorting

Scientists don’t often discuss FRBs — likewise any other entity — due to the fact that they’re of different backgrounds and from different parts of the world. The online catalogue offers scientists a suitable and accessible platform for discussion, debate, and the sharing of knowledge. The online database has a traceable history that’s integrated with opportunities for all scientists to study and work towards solving problems — or perhaps the optimization of this process in the future.

This is all in part of developing an engagement for scientists as motivation and a means of looking further into future research. There are more problems than there are solutions, and data about FRBs is now popping up kind courtesy of MeerKAT and HIRAX. Their aim is to examine and publish liable papers that seek in depth knowledge into viable theories within the coming years.


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Apr 16, 2019.

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