Repeating bursts of mysterious radio waves from a galaxy far, far away have been detected by scientists who believe they come from an “extremely powerful object”.

Researchers at New York’s Cornell University, who published the paper inNature on Wednesday, believe the origin of these fast radio bursts (FRBs), which last only milliseconds, cannot be an explosion in space as they are repeating.

“Whatever produces the FRB can’t be destroyed by the burst, because otherwise, what would produce the next pulse?” saidShami Chatterjee, a senior researcher at Cornell, who has also described their findings as having “broken this enigmatic phenomenon wide open”.

Knowing that there are such FRBs raises further questions still, not only about the exact source of them, but also what is driving them. The study found that “whatever battery drives FRBs, it can recharge in minutes”.

As these FRBs are being detected from very far away, they are “intrinsically very bright”, which Cornell astronomy professor Ira Wasserman believes narrows down the source. “Only a few astrophysical sources can produce bursts like this, and we think they are most likely neutron stars in other galaxies,” Cordes theorizes, although the exact source will now have to be pinpointed.

Only 17 FRBs have ever been discovered, the first in 2007. As they were isolated events, they were thought to be caused by cataclysmic incidents which destroyed the source, such as an exploding star or evaporating black hole.

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