Astronomers detect a particularly strange radio "heartbeat" from a distant galaxy

Astronomers report today that they've detected a persistent fast radio burst (FRB), a "heartbeat"-like pulse of radio waves from a distant galaxy, that's unlike any they've encountered before. According to the MIT researchers and collaborators, this signal "is currently the longest-lasting FRB, with the clearest periodic pattern, detected to date." Detected by the CHIME large radio telescope in British Columbia (above), the signal originates several billion light-years from Earth. From MIT News:

"There are not many things in the universe that emit strictly periodic signals," says Daniele Michilli, a postdoc in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "Examples that we know of in our own galaxy are radio pulsars and magnetars, which rotate and produce a beamed emission similar to a lighthouse. And we think this new signal could be a magnetar or pulsar on steroids."

The team hopes to detect more periodic signals from this source, which could then be used as an astrophysical clock. For instance, the frequency of the bursts, and how they change as the source moves away from Earth, could be used to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding.