Repeated radio blasts hitting Earth could finally solve one of the universe’s biggest mysteries


Repeated blasts of energy that are coming from deep in space could finally solve one of the universe’s deepest mysteries, according to researchers.

A series of intense emissions appear to be coming from a magnetar, researchers said – and their characteristics could prove important to understanding what they are. Among other things, they have been proposed as a possible source for fast radio bursts: powerful blasts of energy, the mystery behind which has led to speculation they could be caused by alien technology.

Magnetars are one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and are a particular kind of neutron star that has a strong magnetic field and spins around every few seconds. Beyond that, they remain largely mysterious: astronomers know very little about their characteristics, how they form, or what they even are.

But scientists now believe that a series of signals, detected on Earth in 2020, could finally help solve some of that mystery.

The events began on October 5, 2020, when scientists found that a magnetar known as SGR 1935+2154 appeared to be slowing down, losing its angular momentum. Astronomers describe that as a “spin-down glitch”, and actually seeing one is rare.

In the days that followed, three intense radio bursts were detected.

Both of those events – the spin-down glitch and the radio signals – are each very rare. The fact they occurred together suggests they are related, scientists say.

The combination could be useful in finding out how both magnetars and fast radio bursts come about and what triggers them.

Scientists suggest that the star shed plasma, which caused a wind that slowed down the star’s momentum and magnetic field, which together led to the radio blast.

The findings are described in new paper, ‘Magnetar spin-down glitch clearing the way for FRB-like bursts and a pulsed radio episode’, published in Nature Astronomy.


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