Surprise! Monster Burst of Radio Waves Arose in Tiny Galaxy

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For the first time, scientists have directly traced an incredibly intense, blindingly bright burst of radio waves — known as an FRB — back to its home galaxy. Surprisingly, this impressive cosmic radio flasher has somewhat humble origins, according to three new studies detailing the findings.

FRB stands for “fast radio burst.” These flickers of light were just discovered in 2007, and although they last for just a fraction of a second, they release more energy than our entire sun will radiate in 10,000 years. Eighteen FRBs have been detected, but scientists estimate that one of these bursts occurs somewhere in the sky about once every 10 seconds.

What cosmic event could release such an intense burst of radio waves? That’s still a mystery, but narrowing down the precise location of one of these radio blasts is a big step toward cracking the case.

The new study shows that the burst, known as FRB 121102, originated about 3 billion light-years away from Earth, from inside a dwarf galaxy — a collection of stars much smaller than large galaxies like the Milky Way.

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