Early this year, a group of astronomers encountered a signal they called a fast radio burst (FRB). Or perhaps it is not, based on a follow-up observation.
Sometime in February, astronomers reported in Nature that they have determined the exact source of a signal they called an FRB: a host galaxy several billion light-years away.
Although it's no longer unusual for astronomers to receive and detect signals and objects that are incredibly distant from Earth, FRBs are of a different league.
FRBs are high-energy pulses or emissions that last for only a few milliseconds and seem to be detected in different areas of the sky that only their afterglows are usually determined. They are so hard to catch that only 17 of them have ever been recorded. They have also become mysterious and have been explained by different theories as to their origin including pulsars and alien communication.
The FRB discovered in February is significant since it was detected in real time, the second time so far, which then allowed the astronomers to identify the source.
However, like any scientific data, the result was subjected to further investigation, and a follow-up by Harvard University astronomers Edo Berger and Peter Williams confirmed it's not FRB after all.
The Harvard study involved using Very Large Array (VLA) telescopes, which can be calibrated by the researchers to specific settings that will allow them to monitor the source of the radio burst without having to change other scientific operations.
Using the instrument, the researchers learned that although the supposed afterglow varied in terms of strength, it persisted, which is unlike an FRB, which fades. This phenomenon has actually been detected during the initial study, but Williams and Berger believe they had simply missed the "rebrightenings."
"The radio emission from this source goes up and down, but it never goes away. That means it can't be associated with the fast radio burst," explained Berger.
But if it isn't FRB, then what is it? Fortunately, the Harvard study was able to answer the question. Upon further tests, they discovered that the signal is coming from the core of a galaxy that is greatly influenced by a very huge black hole.
As to their bursts, they can be explained the way we do the twinkling of the stars, that is, these signals were steady, but they appeared to be flickering because of the gases in space.
Today, the burst is already gone, but "we have firm evidence for the origins of both short and long gamma-ray bursts," he added.
This may mean we do have the capability to resolve FRBs and, who knows, even unlock the other huge mysteries of the universe.