Astronomers have deduced that a series of short, powerful radio waves received from space earlier this year are actually coming from within our own galaxy.
According to three papers published in Nature, powerful blasts of radio waves from space recorded in April came from an object within the Milky Way. Known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs, the radio waves reportedly came from what has been called a "zombie" star. The neutron star, made of dense leftovers from when a huge star collapses on itself, has a powerful magnetic field that can store a ton of energy, and as such it can distort the shapes of atoms.
Astronomers are looking to track down the source of the FRBs, which are thought to appear once every second in the night sky for just milliseconds at a time. Throughout history, only a small number of instances of these have been recorded, and up until now they had all presumably stemmed from a galaxy beyond our own. Since these FRBs before were believed to be billions of light years away from us, it's been very difficult in the past to determine where they're coming from.
"There’s this great mystery as to what would produce these great outbursts of energy, which until now we’ve seen coming from halfway across the universe," Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics at MIT, told the Independent. "This is the first time we’ve been able to tie one of these exotic fast radio bursts to a single astrophysical object."
Researchers were able to detect the FRBs in the spring after they used two space telescopes to pick up numerous X-ray and gamma ray emissions stemming from a "magnetar," which NASA has called "the most magnetic stars in the universe." The day after they set up the telescopes, the blast of FRBs, now known as FRB 200428, were recorded.
It has been suggested that the source of the FRBs could be solved now that it's believed they originated from magnetars, although the mystery surrounding them isn't solved yet. Further research into the magnetar is expected to continue, and the other 30 known magnetars will also be more closesly watched in light of recent discoveries and studies.