Astronomers pinpoint origin of record-breaking radio blast

Researchers have discovered that the most powerful fast radio blast (FRB) ever recorded originated from a “blob-like” collection of seven galaxies “halfway back to the Big Bang.”

In addition to being the most powerful FRB ever, the radio blast documented in the summer of 2022 is also the most distant spotted so far.

Now, using the images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers led by Northwestern University have managed to trace back the location of its origin.

In a “curious” finding, the astronomers have discovered that the FRB originated not in one galaxy but rather a group of seven galaxies on the path to a possible merger, the university said in a press release.

It said that such groups of galaxies are rare and possibly led to conditions that triggered the FRB, challenging known scientific theories of how FRBs are produced and what produces them.

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the host galaxy of an exceptionally powerful fast radio burst, FRB 20220610A. Image by NASA, ESA, STScI, Alexa Gordon (Northwestern)

“It’s these types of environments – these weird ones – that drive us toward a better understanding of the mystery of FRBs,” said Northwestern’s Alexa Gordon, who led the study.

Without Hubble’s imaging, it would have been impossible to tell whether this particular FRB originated from one monolithic galaxy or from “some type of interacting system,” Gordon said.

FRBs are brief, powerful radio blasts that flare up and disappear within milliseconds. They generate more energy in one quick burst than the Sun emits in an entire year.

The record-breaking FRB, dubbed FRB 20220610A, was “even more extreme” than its predecessors, being four times more energetic than closer FRBs, Northwestern said.

When the blast originated, it was only 5 billion years old. For comparison, the universe is currently 13.8 billion years old.

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