Mysterious radio blasts coming from deep in space are repeating in a pattern, scientists have found.
Researchers looking to study fast radio bursts, or FRBs, have found that one particular emission appears to be repeating in a cycle.
Scientists hope to use the pattern to understand more about the enigmatic blasts. Researchers have been unable to find how the bursts could be created, with the only certainty being that the very short but very powerful blasts must be emerging from some unknown, very extreme part of the universe.
The bursts come in a roughly 90 day window, which is then followed by a silent period for 67 days. The pattern then repeats, leaving a reliable 157 day period that was tracked over multiple years.
That long pattern could suggest that the blasts are linked to the swirling, orbital motion of a massive star, a neutron star or a black hole.
"This is an exciting result as it is only the second system where we believe we see this modulation in burst activity," said Kaustubh Rajwade of The University of Manchester, who led the new research. "Detecting a periodicity provides an important constraint on the origin of the bursts and the activity cycles could argue against a precessing neutron star."
Fast radio bursts were first discovered in 2007, and were initially thought to be the result of a one-off event. Scientists then found in 2016 that FRB 121102 was in fact repeating.
In the latest research, scientists then studied the source of the FRB using telescopes at Jodrell Bank, which allowed for regular monitoring over a long period that revealed the blast could be seen to be coming in a repeating patter when watched for a long time.
"This result relied on the regular monitoring possible with the Lovell Telescope, and non-detections were just as important as the detections," said Benjamin Stappers, who leads the MeerTRAP project to hunt for FRBs using the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa, in a statement.
FRB 121102 is only the second known source of FRBs to repeat in such a way. The first did so on a much tighter timetable, with a cycle that lasted only 16 days.