Origins of fast radio bursts come into focus through polarized light | Science & Technology

What scientists previously thought about where Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) come from is just the tip of the iceberg, according to new research led by astronomers at the University of Toronto. The mysteries of the millisecond-long cosmic explosions are unfolding with a new way of analyzing data from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME).

Published today in The Astrophysical Journal, the study details the properties of polarized light from 128 non-repeating FRBs — those from sources that have only produced a single burst to date. It finds that they appear to come from galaxies like our own Milky Way with modest densities and modest magnetic fields.

Previous studies of FRBs have focused on much smaller samples of hyperactive repeating sources that, in contrast, appear to originate in dense, extremely magnetized environments. Only about 3 per cent of known FRBs repeat, coming from a source that has produced multiple bursts since being found.

Most radio telescopes can only see small points in the sky, making it easier to focus on repeating FRBs with known positions. CHIME can survey an extremely large area of the sky to detect both repeating and non-repeating FRBs.

“This was the first look at the other 97 per cent,” says lead author Ayush Pandhi, a PhD student at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics and the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. “It allows us to reconsider what we think FRBs are and see how repeating and non-repeating FRBs may be different.”

First detected in 2007, FRBs are extremely energetic flashes from distant sources across the universe. While over 1,000 FRBs have been catalogued since then, scientists do not yet know exactly where or how they are produced. They have also questioned whether repeating and non-repeating FRBs originate in similar environments.

“This is a new way to analyze the data we have on FRBs. Instead of just looking at how bright something is, we’re…


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