Astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have picked up repetitive radio signals from a galaxy billions of light-years from Earth, without knowing the exact location of the radio waves. The signals have been occurring steadily and last up to three seconds – boom, boom, boom – like a heartbeat. “Within this window, the team detected bursts of radio waves that repeat every 0.2 seconds in a clear periodic pattern, similar to a beating heart,” MIT said in a statement. The signal has been classified as a fast radio burst, or FRB, labeled by astronomers as FRB 20191221A. A distant neutron star could be the origin. “There are not many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals,” says Daniele Michilli, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
“Examples that we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce a beamed emission similar to a lighthouse. ” Since the first FRB was discovered in 2007, hundreds of similar radio flashes have been detected across the universe, most recently by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment. The main difference between the new signal and radio emissions from our own galactic pulsars and magnetars is that FRB 20191221A appears to be more than a million times brighter.