Astronomers discover a mysterious, fast radio burst in space with 'heartbeat' pattern

In their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature on Wednesday, the researchers noted that the signal – classified as a  fast radio burst, or FRB – is the longest-lasting of its kind ever  detected. 

It also displays the clearest periodic pattern for an FRB found so far. 

FRBs are intense, very quick flashes of radio waves in space that are  visible from billions of light-years away, the researchers note. 

The exact origins of FRBs are unknown, but hundreds have been detected  across the universe since the first FRB was discovered by scientists in 2007, according to a news release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

"Imagine a very distant galaxy. And sometimes, some huge explosions happen that emit huge blasts of radio waves," 

" Daniele Michilli,  a postdoctoral scholar at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and  Space Research and one of the study's authors, told USA TODAY. " 

"We don't know what these explosions are, (but) they are so powerful that we can see them from across the universe." 

But the FRB detected in the new study, labeled FRB 20191221A, is  particularly unique – for both how long the signal lasts and its  pattern. 

Typical FRBs "last about a millisecond, so much shorter than the blink of an eye," Michilli noted. 

FRB 20191221A has a duration of three seconds, about 1,000 times greater than the average. 

In addition, the researchers found that the radio wave bursts repeated  every 0.2 seconds, similar to the pattern of a "heartbeat." 

Like other FRBs, the source of FRB 20191221A is a mystery – but the  researchers noted that its emissions are similar to a radio pulsar or a  magnetar, two types of neutron stars.