Extreme Radio Events in Space Captured by NASA Telescopes

NASA researchers are making strides in comprehending extreme radio events in space, following the detection of a rapid burst of radio waves from a dead star, or magnetar, by two of NASA’s X-ray telescopes. The radio burst, which lasted for only a fraction of a second, emitted an amount of energy equivalent to what the sun generates in a year. This discovery was recently published in the scientific journal, Nature.

Previously, scientists had trouble pinpointing the origins of these radio waves due to their fleeting nature and the fact that they often stem from beyond our galaxy. However, in 2020, a magnetar within our home galaxy emitted a short but intense radio burst that was detected by scientists. This was followed by a second radio burst from the same magnetar in October 2022, which was captured by NASA’s two telescopes: the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) located on the International Space Station, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) in low Earth orbit.

The magnetar, spanning approximately 12 miles in diameter and rotating around 3.2 times per second at a speed of 7,000 mph, exhibited behavior that astounded the scientists. It was noted that the magnetar slowed down to a speed slower than its pre-glitch speed within a span of nine hours. This is unusual as typically, a magnetar takes weeks or even months to revert to its normal speed after a glitch, which is characterized by a sudden increase in spin speed.

Lead author of the study, Chin-Ping Hu, an astrophysicist at National Changhua University of Education in Taiwan, suggested that these changes in the magnetar’s behavior and the generation of fast radio bursts might be linked. The occurrence of these events on a shorter timescale than previously thought indicates that much remains to be discovered about these celestial bodies.

Despite this significant discovery, George Younes, a researcher at Goddard and a member of the NICER science team who specializes in magnetars, conceded that there is still much research needed to fully comprehend the mystery of fast radio bursts. He emphasized the need for more data to get a complete understanding of these celestial phenomena. This incident is a crucial step in the scientific quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe and a testament to the continually evolving understanding of space.

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