Scientists identify a mysterious radio signal that ‘beats’ millions of light years

The fast radio burst  ( FRB ) has a periodic pattern like the beating of a heart.


Scientists at MIT have identified a new fast radio burst ( FRB ) that beats at regular intervals, like a heart.

This phenomenon, named FRB 20191221A , repeats every 0.2 seconds for up to three seconds, giving it the record for the longest duration discovered to date.

“Like a heart”

The discovery was made by a group of astronomers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was published in the journal Nature .

FRB 20191221A, as researchers have classified it, is currently the longest-lived FRB with the clearest periodic pattern ever discovered. The source of the signal is in a distant galaxy, several billion light-years from Earth.

This new signal persists for up to three seconds, about a thousand times longer than the average FRB , with radio wave bursts repeating up to every 0.2 seconds.

Theories about its origin

Scientists are still studying to find the origin of this signal, but the main hypothesis is that it comes from a pulsar or a magnetar.

“There aren’t many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals,” said Daniele Michilli, a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at MIT and an author of the paper. “Examples that we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce an emission similar to that of a lighthouse,” she explained. “And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or pulsar on steroids.”

However, there is a big difference: the newly discovered signal is a million times brighter than the neutron stars we have discovered so far.

“From the properties of this new signal, we can tell that around this source there is a cloud of plasma that must be extremely turbulent,” Michilli explained.