March 29, 2022

Fast radio bursts at the down of the 2020s

Since the discovery of the first fast radio burst (FRB) in 2007, and their confirmation as an abundant extragalactic population in 2013, the study of these sources has expanded at an incredible rate. In our 2019 review on the subject, we presented a growing, but still mysterious, population of FRBs—60 unique sources, 2 repeating FRBs, and only 1 identified host galaxy. However, in only a few short years, new observations and discoveries have given us a wealth of information about these sources. The total FRB population now stands at over 600 published sources, 24 repeaters, and 19 host galaxies. Higher time resolution data, sustained monitoring, and precision localisations have given us insight into repeaters, host galaxies, burst morphology, source activity, progenitor models, and the use of FRBs as cosmological probes. The recent detection of a bright FRB-like burst from the Galactic magnetar SGR 1935 + 2154 provides an important link between FRBs and magnetars. There also continue to be surprising discoveries, like periodic modulation of activity from repeaters and the localisation of one FRB source to a relatively nearby globular cluster associated with the M81 galaxy. In this review, we summarise the exciting observational results from the past few years. We also highlight their impact on our understanding of the FRB population and proposed progenitor models. We build on the introduction to FRBs in our earlier review, update our readers on recent results, and discuss interesting avenues for exploration as the field enters a new regime where hundreds to thousands of new FRBs will be discovered and reported each year.

Petroff, E., Hessels, J. W. T., Lorimer, D. R., A&ARv, Volume 30, Issue 1, article id.2.

March 28, 2022

Milliarcsecond Localization of the Repeating FRB 20201124A

Very long baseline interferometric (VLBI) localizations of repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) have demonstrated a diversity of local environments: from nearby star-forming regions to globular clusters. Here we report the VLBI localization of FRB 20201124A using an ad hoc array of dishes that also participate in the European VLBI Network (EVN). In our campaign, we detected 18 bursts from FRB 20201124A at two separate epochs. By combining the visibilities from both epochs, we were able to localize FRB 20201124A with a 1σ uncertainty of 2.7 mas. We use the relatively large burst sample to investigate astrometric accuracy and find that for ≳20 baselines (≳7 dishes) we can robustly reach milliarcsecond precision even using single-burst data sets. Subarcsecond precision is still possible for single bursts, even when only ~6 baselines (four dishes) are available. In such cases, the limited uv coverage for individual bursts results in very high side-lobe levels. Thus, in addition to the peak position from the dirty map, we also explore smoothing the structure in the dirty map by fitting Gaussian functions to the fringe pattern in order to constrain individual burst positions, which we find to be more reliable. Our VLBI work places FRB 20201124A 710 ± 30 mas (1σ uncertainty) from the optical center of the host galaxy, consistent with originating from within the recently discovered extended radio structure associated with star formation in the host galaxy. Future high-resolution optical observations, e.g., with Hubble Space Telescope, can determine the proximity of FRB 20201124A's position to nearby knots of star formation.

Nimmo, K., Hewitt, D. M., Hessels, J. W. T., et al. 2022, ApJL, Volume 927, Issue 1, id.L3, 12 pp.

February 23, 2022

A repeating fast radio burst source in a globular cluster

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are flashes of unknown physical origin1. The majority of FRBs have been seen only once, although some are known to generate multiple flashes. Many models invoke magnetically powered neutron stars (magnetars) as the source of the emission. Recently, the discovery6 of another repeater (FRB 20200120E) was announced, in the direction of the nearby galaxy M81, with four potential counterparts at other wavelengths6. Here we report observations that localized the FRB to a globular cluster associated with M81, where it is 2 parsecs away from the optical centre of the cluster. Globular clusters host old stellar populations, challenging FRB models that invoke young magnetars formed in a core-collapse supernova. We propose instead that FRB 20200120E originates from a highly magnetized neutron star formed either through the accretion-induced collapse of a white dwarf, or the merger of compact stars in a binary system. Compact binaries are efficiently formed inside globular clusters, so a model invoking them could also be responsible for the observed bursts.

Kirsten, F., Marcote, B., Nimmo, K., et al., 2022, Nature, Volume 602, Issue 7898, p.585-589.

February 23, 2022

Burst timescales and luminosities as links between young pulsars and fast radio bursts

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are extragalactic radio flashes of unknown physical origin. Their high luminosities and short durations require extreme energy densities, such as those found in the vicinity of neutron stars and black holes. Studying the burst intensities and polarimetric properties on a wide range of timescales, from milliseconds down to nanoseconds, is key to understanding the emission mechanism. However, high-time-resolution studies of FRBs are limited by their unpredictable activity levels, available instrumentation and temporal broadening in the intervening ionized medium. Here we show that the repeating FRB 20200120E can produce isolated shots of emission as short as about 60 nanoseconds in duration, with brightness temperatures as high as 3 × 10^41 K (excluding relativistic effects), comparable with `nano-shots' from the Crab pulsar. Comparing both the range of timescales and luminosities, we find that FRB 20200120E observationally bridges the gap between known Galactic young pulsars and magnetars and the much more distant extragalactic FRBs. This suggests a common magnetically powered emission mechanism spanning many orders of magnitude in timescale and luminosity. In this Article, we probe a relatively unexplored region of the short-duration transient phase space; we highlight that there probably exists a population of ultrafast radio transients at nanosecond to microsecond timescales, which current FRB searches are insensitive to.

Nimmo, K., Hessels, J. W. T., Kirsten, F., et al. 2022, Nature Astronomy, Volume 6, p. 393-401.

January 29, 2022

Subsequent detection of three more bursts from FRB 20201124A using the Westerbork-RT1 25-m telescope

Following ATel \#15190, we report the subsequent detection of three additional bursts from FRB 20201124A using the Westerbork-RT1 25-m telescope. Observations were done at a central frequency of 1323.49 MHz using a bandwidth of 128 MHz. We use a DM of 410.775 pc cm^-3, as determined in our analysis of bursts discovered using the Onsala telescope.

Ould-Boukattine, O. S., Kirsten, F., Nimmo, K., et al., 2022, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 15192.

January 28, 2022

Burst detection from FRB 20201124A using the Westerbork-RT1 25-m telescope

We report the detection of a fast radio burst from FRB 20201124A using the Westerbork-RT1 25-m telescope. Observations were done at a central frequency of 1323.49 MHz using a bandwidth of 128 MHz. We use a DM of 410.775 pc cm^-3, as determined in our analysis of bursts discovered using the Onsala telescope.

Ould-Boukattine, O. S., Kirsten, F., Nimmo, K., et al., 2022, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 15190.

May 06, 2021

Two bright bursts from FRB 20201124A with the Onsala 25-m telescope at 1.4 GHz, with no simultaneous emission detected at 330 MHz with Westerbork 25-m

We are running a multi-telescope, multi-band observing campaign on the recently announced fast radio burst source FRB 20201124A (ATel \#14497). The participating stations are the 25-m telescope at Onsala Space Observatory (OSO, observing between 1360-1488 MHz), the 25-m dish at Westerbork RT1 (300-364 MHz) and the 32-m telescope in Torun (4550-4806 MHz).

Kirsten, F., Ould-Boukattine, O. S., Nimmo, K., et al., 2021, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 14605.

May 05, 2021

VLBI localization of FRB 20201124A and absence of persistent emission on milliarcsecond scales

We observed the field of FRB 20201124A (ATel \#14497) as part of the PRECISE project with an ad-hoc interferometric array composed of dishes that are part of the European VLBI Network (EVN).

Marcote, B., Kirsten, F., Hessels, J. W. T., et al., 2021, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 14603.

April 29, 2021

Detection of two bright radio bursts from magnetar SGR 1935+2154

Fast radio bursts are millisecond-duration, bright radio signals (fluence 0.1-100 Jy ms) emitted from extragalactic sources of unknown physical origin. The recent CHIME/FRB and STARE2 detection of an extremely bright (fluence ~MJy ms) radio burst from the Galactic magnetar SGR 1935+2154 supports the hypothesis that (at least some) fast radio bursts are emitted by magnetars at cosmological distances. In follow-up observations totalling 522.7 h on source, we detect two bright radio bursts with fluences of 112 ± 22 Jy ms and 24 ± 5 Jy ms, respectively. Both bursts appear to be affected by interstellar scattering and we measure significant linear and circular polarization for the fainter burst. The bursts are separated in time by ~1.4 s, suggesting a non-Poissonian, clustered emission process—similar to those seen in some repeating fast radio bursts. Together with the burst reported by CHIME/FRB and STARE2, as well as a much fainter burst seen by FAST (fluence 60 mJy ms), our observations demonstrate that SGR 1935+2154 can produce bursts with apparent energies spanning roughly seven orders of magnitude, and that the burst rate is comparable across this range. This raises the question of whether these four bursts arise from similar physical processes, and whether the fast radio burst population distribution extends to very low energies (~1030 erg, isotropic equivalent).

Kirsten, F., Snelders, M. P., Jenkins, M., et al. 2021, Nature Astronomy, Volume 5, p. 414-422.

April 09, 2021

LOFAR Detection of 110-188 MHz Emission and Frequency-dependent Activity from FRB 20180916B

The object FRB 20180916B is a well-studied repeating fast radio burst source. Its proximity (∼150 Mpc), along with detailed studies of the bursts, has revealed many clues about its nature, including a 16.3 day periodicity in its activity. Here we report on the detection of 18 bursts using LOFAR at 110-188 MHz, by far the lowest-frequency detections of any FRB to date. Some bursts are seen down to the lowest observed frequency of 110 MHz, suggesting that their spectra extend even lower. These observations provide an order-of-magnitude stronger constraint on the optical depth due to free-free absorption in the source's local environment. The absence of circular polarization and nearly flat polarization angle curves are consistent with burst properties seen at 300-1700 MHz. Compared with higher frequencies, the larger burst widths (∼40-160 ms at 150 MHz) and lower linear polarization fractions are likely due to scattering. We find ∼2-3 rad m-2 variations in the Faraday rotation measure that may be correlated with the activity cycle of the source. We compare the LOFAR burst arrival times to those of 38 previously published and 22 newly detected bursts from the uGMRT (200-450 MHz) and CHIME/FRB (400-800 MHz). Simultaneous observations show five CHIME/FRB bursts when no emission is detected by LOFAR. We find that the burst activity is systematically delayed toward lower frequencies by about 3 days from 600 to 150 MHz. We discuss these results in the context of a model in which FRB 20180916B is an interacting binary system featuring a neutron star and high-mass stellar companion.

Pleunis, Z., Michili, D., Bassa, C. G., et al., 2021, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 911, Issue 1, id.L3, 18 pp.

March 22, 2021

Highly polarized microstructure from the repeating FRB 20180916B

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are bright, coherent, short-duration radio transients of as-yet unknown extragalactic origin. FRBs exhibit a variety of spectral, temporal and polarimetric properties that can unveil clues into their emission physics and propagation effects in the local medium. Here, we present the high-time-resolution (down to 1 μs) polarimetric properties of four 1.7 GHz bursts from the repeating FRB 20180916B, which were detected in voltage data during observations with the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network. We observe a range of emission timescales that spans three orders of magnitude, with the shortest component width reaching 3-4 μs (below which we are limited by scattering). We demonstrate that all four bursts are highly linearly polarized (≳80%), show no evidence of significant circular polarization (≲15%), and exhibit a constant polarization position angle (PPA) during and between bursts. On short timescales (≲100 μs), however, there appear to be subtle PPA variations (of a few degrees) across the burst profiles. These observational results are most naturally explained in an FRB model in which the emission is magnetospheric in origin, in contrast to models in which the emission originates at larger distances in a relativistic shock.

Nimmo, K., Hessels, J. W. T., Keimpema, A., et al., 2021, Nature Astronomy, Volume 5, p. 594-603.

February 11, 2021

The 60 pc Environment of FRB 20180916B

Fast radio burst FRB 20180916B in its host galaxy SDSS J015800.28+654253.0 at 149 Mpc is by far the closest-known FRB with a robust host galaxy association. The source also exhibits a 16.35 day period in its bursting. Here we present optical and infrared imaging as well as integral field spectroscopy observations of FRB 20180916B with the WFC3 camera on the Hubble Space Telescope and the MEGARA spectrograph on the 10.4 m Gran Telescopio Canarias. The 60-90 milliarcsecond (mas) resolution of the Hubble imaging, along with the previous 2.3 mas localization of FRB 20180916B, allows us to probe its environment with a 30-60 pc resolution. We constrain any point-like star formation or H II region at the location of FRB 20180916B to have an Hα luminosity LHα ≲ 1037 erg s-1, and we correspondingly constrain the local star formation rate to be ≲10-4 M⊙ yr-1. The constraint on Hα suggests that possible stellar companions to FRB 20180916B should be of a cooler, less massive spectral type than O6V. FRB 20180916B is 250 pc away (in projected distance) from the brightest pixel of the nearest young stellar clump, which is ∼380 pc in size (FWHM). With the typical projected velocities of pulsars, magnetars, or neutron stars in binaries (60-750 km s-1), FRB 20180916B would need 800 kyr to 7 Myr to traverse the observed distance from its presumed birth site. This timescale is inconsistent with the active ages of magnetars (≲10 kyr). Rather, the inferred age and observed separation are compatible with the ages of high-mass X-ray binaries and gamma-ray binaries, and their separations from the nearest OB associations.

Tendulkar, S. P., Gil de Paz, A., Kirichenko, A. Y., et al. 2021, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 908, Issue 1, id.L12, 11 pp.

February 09, 2021

Upper limits on the radio fluence of the most recent X-ray bursts from SGR1935+2154

All of Fermi GBM, Konus Wind, GECAM, and Swift-BAT reported several bright bursts during the recent X-ray activity of SGR1935+2154 (GCN circulars GCN

Kirsten, F., Eijnden, J. van den, Snelders, M., et al., 2021, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 14382.

September 06, 2020

Simultaneous X-Ray and Radio Observations of the Repeating Fast Radio Burst FRB ∼ 180916.J0158+65

We report on simultaneous radio and X-ray observations of the repeating fast radio burst source FRB 180916.J0158+65 using the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), Effelsberg, and Deep Space Network (DSS-14 and DSS-63) radio telescopes and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. During 33 ks of Chandra observations, we detect no radio bursts in overlapping Effelsberg or Deep Space Network observations and a single burst during CHIME/FRB source transits. We detect no X-ray events in excess of the background during the Chandra observations. These non-detections imply a 5σ limit of <5 × 10-10 erg cm-2 for the 0.5-10 keV fluence of prompt emission at the time of the radio burst and 1.3 × 10-9 erg cm-2 at any time during the Chandra observations. Given the host-galaxy redshift of FRB 180916.J0158+65 (z ∼ 0.034), these correspond to energy limits of <1.6 × 1045 erg and <4 × 1045 erg, respectively. We also place a 5σ limit of <8 × 10-15 erg s-1 cm-2 on the 0.5-10 keV absorbed flux of a persistent source at the location of FRB 180916.J0158+65. This corresponds to a luminosity limit of <2 × 1040 erg s-1. Using an archival set of radio bursts from FRB 180916.J0158+65, we search for prompt gamma-ray emission in Fermi/GBM data but find no significant gamma-ray bursts, thereby placing a limit of 9 × 10-9 erg cm-2 on the 10-100 keV fluence. We also search Fermi/LAT data for periodic modulation of the gamma-ray brightness at the 16.35 days period of radio burst activity and detect no significant modulation. We compare these deep limits to the predictions of various fast radio burst models, but conclude that similar X-ray constraints on a closer fast radio burst source would be needed to strongly constrain theory.

Scholz, P., Cook, A., Cruces, M., et al. The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 901, Issue 2, id.165, 9 pp.

June 17, 2020

Periodic activity from a fast radio burst source

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are bright, millisecond-duration radio transients originating from sources at extragalactic distances1, the origin of which is unknown. Some FRB sources emit repeat bursts, ruling out cataclysmic origins for those events2-4. Despite searches for periodicity in repeat burst arrival times on timescales from milliseconds to many days2,5-7, these bursts have hitherto been observed to appear sporadically and—although clustered8—without a regular pattern. Here we report observations of a 16.35 ± 0.15 day periodicity (or possibly a higher-frequency alias of that periodicity) from the repeating FRB 180916.J0158+65 detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment Fast Radio Burst Project4,9. In 38 bursts recorded from 16 September 2018 to 4 February 2020 UTC, we find that all bursts arrive in a five-day phase window, and 50 per cent of the bursts arrive in a 0.6-day phase window. Our results suggest a mechanism for periodic modulation either of the burst emission itself or through external amplification or absorption, and disfavour models invoking purely sporadic processes.

CHIME/FRB Collaboration et al., 2020, Nature, Volume 582, Issue 7812, p.351-355.

June 06, 2020

A search for persistent radio emission and millisecond-duration radio bursts from SGR 1935+2154 using the European VLBI Network

We report on real-time European VLBI Network observations (e-EVN) of SGR 1935+2154 on 13 May 2020, following the recent bright radio burst detection (ATel #13681, ATel #13684).

Nimmo, K., Marcote, B., Hessels, J. W. T., et al. 2020, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 13786.

May 14, 2020

Simultaneous multi-frequency limits on radio emission at the time of a bright X-ray burst from SGR 1935+2154

GCN circulars GCN #27714 and #27715 reported two bright X-ray bursts from the currently active magnetar SGR 1935+2154 (ATel #13681, #13684, #13685) detected on May 10 at UT 06:12:02.624 and UT 21:51:17.280.

Kirsten, F., Jenkins, M., Snelders, M., et al. 2020, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 13735.

May 03, 2020

A LOFAR high time resolution search for radio bursts from SGR 1935+2154

We report on a non-detection of radio bursts from the soft gamma-ray repeater SGR 1935+2154 with LOFAR. These LOFAR observations had the goals of i. studying the detailed morphology of the radio bursts in order to potentially compare with the characteristic time-frequency structure seen in repeating FRBs (Hessels et al. 2019) and ii. studying interstellar scattering along this line of sight.

Bassa, C., Hessels, J. W. T., Kondratiev, V., et al. 2020, The Astronomer's Telegram, No. 13707.

April 30, 2020

No Radio Bursts Detected from FIRST J141918.9+394036 in Green Bank Telescope Observations

FRB 121102, the first-known repeating fast radio burst (FRB) source, is associated with a dwarf host galaxy and compact, persistent radio source. In an effort to find other repeating FRBs, FIRST J141918.9+394036 (hereafter FIRST J1419+3940) was identified in a search for similar persistent radio sources in dwarf host galaxies. FIRST J1419+3940 was subsequently identified as a radio transient decaying on timescales of decades, and it has been argued that it is the orphan afterglow of a long gamma-ray burst. FIRST J1419+3940 and FRB 121102's persistent radio source show observational similarities, though the latter appears to be stable in brightness. Nonetheless, if they have similar physical origins, then FIRST J1419+3940 may also contain a source capable of producing fast radio bursts. We report the non-detection of short-duration radio bursts from FIRST J1419+3940 during 3.1 h of observations with the 110-m Green Bank Telescope at both 2 and 6 GHz. FIRST J1419+3940 is 11 times closer compared with FRB 121102, and exhibits an optically-thin synchrotron spectrum above 1.4GHz; our search was thus sensitive to bursts more than 100 times weaker than those seen from FRB 121102. We encourage future burst searches to constrain the possible presence of an FRB-emitting source. Although such searches are high-risk, any such detection could greatly elucidate the origins of the FRB phenomenon.

Nimmo, K., Gajjar, V., Hessels, J. W. T., et al. 2020, Research Notes of the AAS, Volume 4, Issue 4, id.50.

January 06, 2020

A repeating fast radio burst source localized to a nearby spiral galaxy

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are brief, bright, extragalactic radio flashes. Their physical origin remains unknown, but dozens of possible models have been postulated. Some FRB sources exhibit repeat bursts. Although over a hundred FRB sources have been discovered, only four have been localized and associated with a host galaxy, and just one of these four is known to emit repeating FRBs. The properties of the host galaxies, and the local environments of FRBs, could provide important clues about their physical origins. The first known repeating FRB, however, was localized to a low-metallicity, irregular dwarf galaxy, and the apparently non-repeating sources were localized to higher-metallicity, massive elliptical or star-forming galaxies, suggesting that perhaps the repeating and apparently non-repeating sources could have distinct physical origins. Here we report the precise localization of a second repeating FRB source, FRB 180916.J0158+65, to a star-forming region in a nearby (redshift 0.0337 ± 0.0002) massive spiral galaxy, whose properties and proximity distinguish it from all known hosts. The lack of both a comparably luminous persistent radio counterpart and a high Faraday rotation measure6 further distinguish the local environment of FRB 180916.J0158+65 from that of the single previously localized repeating FRB source, FRB 121102. This suggests that repeating FRBs may have a wide range of luminosities, and originate from diverse host galaxies and local environments.

Marcote, B., Nimmo, K., Hessels, J. W. T., et al. 2020, Nature, Volume 577, Issue 7789, p.190-194.