Fast radio burst

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Lorimer Burst – Observation of the first detected fast radio burst as described by Lorimer in 2007.[1]

In radio astronomy, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a transient radio pulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process not yet identified. While extremely energetic at their source, the strength of the signal reaching Earth has been described as 1,000 times less than from a mobile phone on the Moon.[2] The first FRB was discovered by Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic in 2007 when they were looking through archival pulsar survey data, and it is therefore commonly referred to as the Lorimer Burst. Several FRBs have since been found, including two repeating FRBs.[3][4][5][6][7] Although the exact origin and cause is uncertain, they are almost definitely extragalactic. When the FRBs are polarized, it indicates that they are emitted from a source contained within an extremely powerful magnetic field.[8] The origin of the FRBs has yet to be identified; proposals for their origin range from a rapidly rotating neutron star and a black hole, to extraterrestrial intelligence.[9][10]

The localization and characterization of the first detected repeating source, FRB 121102, has revolutionized the understanding of the source class. FRB 121102 is identified with a galaxy at a distance of approximately 3 billion light years, well outside the Milky Way, and embedded in an extreme environment.[11][8]


The first fast radio burst to be described, the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was detected in 2007 in archived data recorded by the Parkes Observatory on 24 July 2001. Since then, most known FRBs have been found in previously recorded data. On 19 January 2015, astronomers at Australia's national science agency (CSIRO) reported that a fast radio burst had been observed for the first time live, by the Parkes Observatory.[12]


Fast radio bursts are bright, unresolved (pointsource-like), broadband (spanning a large range of radio frequencies), millisecond flashes found in parts of the sky outside the Milky Way. Unlike many radio sources, the signal from a burst is detected in a short period of time with enough strength to stand out from the noise floor. The burst usually appears as a single spike of energy without any change in its strength over time. The bursts last for several milliseconds (thousandths of a second). The bursts come from all over the sky, and are not concentrated on the plane of the Milky Way. Known FRB locations are biased by the parts of the sky that the observatories can image.

Frequencies and dispersion[edit]

The component frequencies of each burst are delayed by different amounts of time depending on the wavelength. This delay is described by a value referred to as a dispersion measure (DM).[13] This results in a received signal that sweeps rapidly down in frequency, as longer wavelengths are delayed more.

Extragalactic origin[edit]

The interferometer UTMOST has put a lower limit of 10,000 kilometers for the distance to the FRBs it has detected, supporting the case for an astronomical, rather than terrestrial, origin (because signal sources on Earth are ruled out as being closer than this limit). This limit can be determined from the fact that closer sources would have a curved wave front that could be detected by the multiple antennas of the interferometer.[14]

Fast radio bursts have pulse dispersion measurements > 100 pc cm−3[15], much larger than expected for a source inside the Milky Way galaxy[16] and consistent with propagation through an ionized plasma.[13] Furthermore their distribution is isotropic (not especially coming from the galactic plane);[14]:fig 3 consequently they are conjectured to be of extragalactic origin.

Bursts observed[edit]

Fast radio bursts are named by the date the signal was recorded, as "FRB YYMMDD".

2001 (Lorimer Burst)[edit]

The first FRB detected, the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was discovered in 2007 when Duncan Lorimer assigned his student David Narkevic to look through archival data taken in 2001 by the Parkes radio dish in Australia.[17] Analysis of the survey data found a 30-jansky dispersed burst which occurred on 24 July 2001,[13] less than 5 milliseconds in duration, located 3° from the Small Magellanic Cloud. The reported burst properties argue against a physical association with the Milky Way galaxy or the Small Magellanic Cloud. The burst became known as the Lorimer Burst.[18] The discoverers argue that current models for the free electron content in the Universe imply that the burst is less than 1 gigaparsec distant. The fact that no further bursts were seen in 90 hours of additional observations implies that it was a singular event such as a supernova or merger of relativistic objects.[13] It is suggested that hundreds of similar events could occur every day and, if detected, could serve as cosmological probes.[1]


In 2010 there was a report of 16 similar pulses, clearly of terrestrial origin, detected by the Parkes radio telescope and given the name perytons.[19] In 2015 perytons were shown to be generated when microwave oven doors were suddenly opened during a heating cycle, with emission generated by the magnetron.[20]


In 2015, FRB 110523 was discovered in archival data from the Green Bank Telescope.[16] It was the first FRB for which linear polarization was detected (allowing a measurement of Faraday rotation). Measurement of the signal's dispersion delay suggested that this burst was of extragalactic origin, possibly up to 6 billion light years away.[21]


Victoria Kaspi of McGill University estimated that as many as 10,000 fast radio bursts may occur per day over the entire sky.[22]

FRB 121102[edit]

An observation in 2012 of a fast radio burst (FRB 121102)[6] in the direction of Auriga in the northern hemisphere using the Arecibo radio telescope confirmed the extragalactic origin of fast radio pulses by an effect known as plasma dispersion.

In November 2015, astronomer Paul Scholz at McGill University in Canada, found ten non-periodically repeated fast radio pulses in archival data gathered in May and June 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescope.[23] The ten bursts have dispersion measures and sky positions consistent with the original burst FRB 121102, detected in 2012.[23] Like the 2012 burst, the 10 bursts have a plasma dispersion measure that is three times larger than possible for a source in the Milky Way Galaxy. The team thinks that this finding rules out self-destructive, cataclysmic events that could only occur once, such as the explosion of a black hole or the collision between two neutron stars.[24] According to the scientists, the data support an origin in a young rotating neutron star (pulsar), or in a highly magnetized neutron star (magnetar),[23][24][25][26][6] or from highly magnetized pulsars travelling through asteroid belts,[27] or from an intermittent Roche lobe overflow in a neutron star-white dwarf binary.[28]

On 16 December 2016 six new FRBs were reported in the same direction (one having been received on 13 November 2015, four on 19 November 2015, and one on 8 December 2015).[29]:Table 2 As of January 2019 this is one of only two instances in which these signals have been found twice in the same location in space. FRB 121102 is located at least 1150 AU from Earth, excluding the possibility of a human-made source, and is almost certainly extragalactic in nature.[29]

As of April 2018, FRB 121102 is thought to be co-located in a dwarf galaxy about three billion light-years from Earth with a low-luminosity active galactic nucleus, or a previously unknown type of extragalactic source, or a young neutron star energising a supernova remnant.[30][31][11][32][33][34]

On 26 August 2017, astronomers using data from the Green Bank Telescope detected 15 additional repeating FRBs coming from FRB 121102 at 5 to 8 GHz. The researchers also noted that FRB 121102 is presently in a "heightened activity state, and follow-on observations are encouraged, particularly at higher radio frequencies".[4][5][35] The waves are highly polarized, meaning "twisting" transverse waves, that could only have formed when passing through hot plasma with an extremely strong magnetic field.[36] FRB 121102's radio bursts are about 500 times more twisted (polarized) than those from any other FRB to date.[36] Since it is a repeating FRB source, it suggests that it does not come from some one-time cataclysmic event, so one hypothesis, first advanced in January 2018, proposes that these particular repeating bursts may come from a dense stellar core called a neutron star near an extremely powerful magnetic field, such as one near a massive black hole,[36] or one embedded in a nebula.[37]

In April 2018, it was reported that FRB 121102 consisted of 21 bursts spanning one hour.[38] In September 2018, an additional 72 bursts spanning five hours had been detected using a convolutional neural network.[39][40][41]


In 2013, four bursts were identified that supported the likelihood of extragalactic sources.[42]


In 2014, FRB 140514 was caught 'live' in 2014 and was found to be 21% (±7%) circularly polarised.[12]

Fast radio bursts discovered up until 2015 had dispersion measures that were close to multiples of 187.5 pc cm−3.[43] However subsequent observations do not fit this pattern.


FRB 150418[edit]

On 18 April 2015, FRB 150418 was detected by the Parkes observatory and within hours, several telescopes including the Australia Telescope Compact Array caught an "afterglow" of the flash, which took six days to fade.[44][45][46] The Subaru telescope was used to find what was thought to be the host galaxy and determine its redshift and the implied distance to the burst.[47]

However, the origin of the burst was soon disputed,[48][49][50] and by April 2016 it was established that the emission instead originates from an active galactic nucleus that is powered by a supermassive black hole with dual jets blasting outward from the black hole.[51] It was also noted that what was thought to be an "afterglow", did not fade away as would be expected, meaning that what was observed was unassociated with the actual fast radio burst.[51]


The upgraded Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (UTMOST), near Canberra (Australia), reported finding three more FRBs.[52] A 180-day three-part survey in 2015 and 2016 found three FRBs at 843 MHz.[14] Each FRB located with a narrow elliptical 'beam'; the relatively narrow band 828–858 MHz gives a less precise dispersion measure (DM).[14]

A short survey using part of ASKAP found one FRB in 3.4 days. FRB170107 was bright with a fluence of 58±6 Jy ms.[15][53]

According to Anastasia Fialkov and Abraham Loeb, FRB's could be occurring as often as once per second. Earlier research could not identify the occurrence of FRB's to this degree.[54]


Three FRBs were reported in March 2018 by Parkes Observatory in Australia. One (FRB 180309) had the highest signal to noise ratio yet seen of 411.[55][56]

The unusual CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) radio telescope, operational from September 2018, will be used to detect "hundreds" of fast radio bursts as a secondary objective to its cosmological observations.[57][23] FRB 180725A was reported by CHIME as the first detection of a FRB under 700 MHz – as low as 580 MHz.[58][59]

In October 2018, astronomers reported 19 more new non-repeating FRB bursts detected by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).[60][61] These included three with dispersion measure (DM) smaller than seen before.

FRB 180814[edit]

On 9 January 2019, astronomers announced the discovery of a second repeating FRB source, named FRB 180814, by CHIME. Six bursts were detected between August and October 2018, "consistent with originating from a single position on the sky". The detection was made during CHIME's pre-commissioning phase, during which it operated intermittently, suggesting a "substantial population of repeating FRBs", and that the new telescope would make more detections.[7][62]

Some news media reporting of the discovery speculated that the repeating FRB could be evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence,[63][64] a possibility explored in relation to previous FRBs by some scientists,[65][66] but not raised by the discoverers of FRB 180814.[7][62] One such hypothesis argued that they are stray blasts that are being used to propel spaceships across space.[67]

Origin hypotheses[edit]

Because of the isolated nature of the observed phenomenon, the nature of the source remains speculative. As of 2019, there is no generally accepted explanation. The sources are thought to be a few hundred kilometers or less in size, as the bursts last for only a few milliseconds, and if the bursts come from cosmological distances, their sources must be very energetic,[2] generating as much energy in a millisecond burst as the Sun does in 80 years.[60]

One possible explanation would be a collision between very dense objects like merging black holes or neutron stars.[17] It has been suggested that there is a connection to gamma-ray bursts.[68][69] Some have speculated that these signals might be artificial in origin, that they may be signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.[70][71][65] Analogously, when the first pulsar was discovered, it was thought that the fast, regular pulses could possibly originate from a distant civilisation, and the source nicknamed "LGM-1" (for "little green men").[72]

In 2007, just after the publication of the e-print with the first discovery, it was proposed that fast radio bursts could be related to hyperflares of magnetars.[73][74] In 2015 three studies supported the magnetar hypothesis.[16][75][76][77]

Especially energetic supernovae could be the source of these bursts.[78] Blitzars were proposed in 2013 as an explanation.[2] In 2014 it was suggested that following dark matter-induced collapse of pulsars,[79] the resulting expulsion of the pulsar magnetospheres could be the source of fast radio bursts.[80] In 2015 it was suggested that FRBs are caused by explosive decays of axion miniclusters.[81] Another exotic possible source are cosmic strings that produced these bursts as they interacted with the plasma that permeated the early Universe.[78] In 2016 the collapse of the magnetospheres of Kerr–Newman black holes were proposed to explain the origin of the FRBs' "afterglow" and the weak gamma-ray transient 0.4 s after GW 150914.[82][83] It has also been proposed that if fast radio bursts originate in black hole explosions, FRBs would be the first detection of quantum gravity effects.[17][84] In early 2017, it was proposed that the strong magnetic field near a supermassive black hole could destabilize the current sheets within a pulsar's magnetosphere, releasing trapped energy to power the FRBs.[85]

Repeated bursts of FRB 121102 have initiated multiple origin hypotheses.[86] A coherent emission phenomenon known as superradiance, which involves large-scale entangled quantum mechanical states possibly arising in environments such as active galactic nuclei, has been proposed to explain these and other associated observations with FRBs (e.g. high event rate, variable intensity profiles).[87]

List of bursts[edit]

Name Date and time (UTC) for 1581.804688 MHz RA
Peak flux
FRB 010621[88] 2001-06-21 13:02:10.795 18h 52m −08° 29′ 746 7.8 0.4
FRB 010724[13] 2001-07-24 19:50:01.63 01h 18m −75° 12′ 375 4.6 30 "Lorimer Burst"
FRB 011025[89] 2001-10-25 00:29:13.23 19h 07m −40° 37′ 790 9.4 0.3
FRB 090625[76] 2009-06-25 21:53:52.85 03h 07m −29° 55′ 899.6 <1.9 >2.2
FRB 110220[42] 2011-02-20 01:55:48.957 22h 34m −12° 24′ 944.38 5.6 1.3
FRB 110523 [21][16] 2011-05-23 21h 45m −00° 12′ 623.30 1.73 0.6 700–900 MHz at Green Bank radio telescope, detection of both circular and linear polarization.
FRB 110627[42] 2011-06-27 21:33:17.474 21h 03m −44° 44′ 723.0 <1.4 0.4
FRB 110703[42] 2011-07-03 18:59:40.591 23h 30m −02° 52′ 1103.6 <4.3 0.5
FRB 120127[42] 2012-01-27 08:11:21.723 23h 15m −18° 25′ 553.3 <1.1 0.5
FRB 121002[90] 2012-10-02 13:09:18.402 18h 14m −85° 11′ 1628.76 2.1; 3.7 0.35 double pulse 5.1 ms apart
FRB 121002[76] 2012-10-02 13:09:18.50 18h 14m −85° 11′ 1629.18 <0.3 >2.3
FRB 121102[91] 2012-11-02 06:35:53.244 05h 32m +33° 05′ 557 3.0 0.4 by Arecibo radio telescope

Repeating bursts,[4][5][29][11] very polarized.

FRB 130626[76] 2013-06-26 14:56:00.06 16h 27m −07° 27′ 952.4 <0.12 >1.5
FRB 130628[76] 2013-06-28 03:58:00.02 09h 03m +03° 26′ 469.88 <0.05 >1.2
FRB 130729[76] 2013-07-29 09:01:52.64 13h 41m −05° 59′ 861 <4 >3.5
FRB 131104[92] 2013-11-04 18:04:01.2 06h 44m −51° 17′ 779.0 <0.64 1.12 'near' Carina Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy
FRB 140514[93] 2014-05-14 17:14:11.06 22h 34m −12° 18′ 562.7 2.8 0.47 21 ± 7 per cent (3σ) circular polarization
FRB 150215[94][95] 2015-02-15 20:41:41.714 18h 17m 27s −04° 54′ 15″ 1105.6 2.8 0.7 43% linear, 3% circular polarized. Low galactic latitude. Low/zero rotation measure. Detected in real time. Not detected in follow up observations of gamma rays, X-rays, neutrinos, IR etc.[94]
FRB 150418 2015-04-18 04:29 07h 16m −19° 00′ 776.2 0.8 2.4 Detection of linear polarization. The origin of the burst is disputed.[48][49][50][51]
unnamed 2015-05-17
05h 31m 58s (average) +33° 08′ 04″ (average) 559 (average) 0.02–0.31 2.8–8.7 10 repeat bursts at FRB 121102 location: 2 bursts on May 17 and 8 bursts on June 2[25][26]
and 1 on 13 Nov 2015, 4 on 19 Nov 2015, and 1 on 8 Dec 2015[29]
FRB 150610 2015-06-10 05:26:59.396 10:44:26 -40:05:23 1593.9(±0.6) 2(±1) 0.7(±0.2)
FRB 150807[96] 2015-08-07 17:53:55.7799 22:40:23 –55:16 266.5 0.35±0.05 120±30 80% linearly polarised, Galactic latitude −54.4°, Decl ±4 arcmin, RA ±1.5 arcmin,[96] highest peak flux
FRB 151206 2015-12-06 06:17:52.778 19:21:25 -04:07:54 1909.8(±0.6) 3.0(±0.6) 0.3(±0.04)
FRB 151230 2015-12-30 16:15:46.525 09:40:50 -03:27:05 960.4(±0.5) 4.4(±0.5) 0.42(±0.03)
FRB 160102 2016-01-02 08:28:39.374 22:38:49 -30:10:50 2596.1(±0.3) 3.4(±0.8) 0.5(±0.1)
FRB 160317[14] 2016-03-17 09:00:36.530 07:53:47 −29:36:31 1165(±11) 21 >3.0 UTMOST, Decl ± 1.5°[14]:Table A1
FRB 160410[14] 2016-04-10 08:33:39.680 08:41:25 +06:05:05 278(±3) 4 >7.0 UTMOST, Decl ± 1.5°[14]:Table A1
FRB 160608[14] 2016-06-08 03:53:01.088 07:36:42 −40:47:52 682(±7) 9 >4.3 UTMOST, Decl ± 1.5°[14]:Table A1
FRB 170107[15] 2017-01-07 20:05:45.1397 11:23 – 05:01 609.5(±0.5) 2.6 27±4 first by ASKAP, high fluence ~58 Jy ms. In Leo. Galactic latitude 51°, Distance 3.1 Gpc, isotropic energy ~3 x 1034 J[15]
unnamed 2017-08-26 13:51:44 05h 32m +33° 08′ 558(approx) ? ? 15 more bursts at the location of FRB 121102 detected by Green Bank Telescope over a 24-minute interval, bringing the total received bursts from this location to 34.[4]
FRB 170827[97] 2017-08-27 16:20:18 00h 49m 18.66s −65° 33′ 02.3″ 176.4 0.395 low DM
FRB 170922[98] 2017-09-22 11:23:33.4 21h 29m 50.61s −07° 59′ 40.49″ 1111 26 extreme scattering (long pulse)
FRB 171020 2017-10-20 10:27:58.598 22:15 -19:40 114.1±0.2 3.2 ASKAP s/n=19.5 G-Long'=29.3 G-lat'=-51.3 Lowest DM so far.[99]
FRB 171209[100] 2017-12-09 20:34:23.5 15h 50m 25s −46° 10′ 20″ 1458 2.5 2.3
FRB 180301[101] 2018-03-01 07:34:19.76 06h 12m 43.4s +04° 33′ 44.8″ 520 3 0.5 positive spectrum, from Breakthrough Listen
FRB 180309[102] 2018-03-09 02:49:32.99 21h 24m 43.8s −33° 58′ 44.5″ 263.47 0.576 12
FRB 180311[103] 2018-03-11 04:11:54.80 21h 31m 33.42s −57° 44′ 26.7″ 1575.6 12 2.4
FRB 180725A[59][104] 2018-07-25 17:59:43.115 06h 13m 54.7s +67° 04′ 00.1″ 716.6 2 first detection of an FRB at radio frequencies below 700 MHz
Realtime detection by CHIME.
FRB 180814[7] Detected by CHIME. Second repeating FRB to be discovered and first since 2012.

FRBs are also cataloged at frbcat.[105]


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