Occasionally, astronomers observe intense bursts of radio waves from space that last only a moment but release as much energy in a millisecond as the Sun releases in a single millisecond. years. The origin of these “fast radio bursts” remains one of the greatest mysteries of modern astronomy. There are many theories about what causes these outbreaks. These include highly magnetic neutron stars, extremely dense stellar collisions, and many other extreme phenomena. One way to test which theory is correct is to look for more information about explosions using gravitational waves – fluctuations in the structure of the Universe.
A new study published in The Astrophysical Journal compared dozens of observations of fast radio bursts with data from gravitational wave telescopes to identify possible connections. Gravitational waves travel straight through matter, so nothing can stop them. Astronomers have already detected gravitational waves from collisions of compact star systems such as black holes and neutron stars. To look for new evidence of the causes of fast radio bursts, a targeted search was conducted using the CHIME radio telescope in Canada. Although the CHIME/FRB project has detected hundreds of fast radio bursts, it has not yet been able to detect a connection with gravitational waves.
The team of researchers looked for gravitational waves in the region of the sky where fast radio bursts occurred. For non-repeating bursts, two types of searches were conducted: one that looked for known gravitational wave signals, and another that looked for any burst of energy that was different from normal. Results? This time nothing was found. However, despite the lack of definitive results this time, future searches could be a key step towards understanding fast radio bursts. Gravitational wave detectors are becoming more sensitive and their efficiency will continue to increase in the coming years.