Powerful Punch of Gamma Rays Found in Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts

Penn State University astronomers have discovered that the mysterious “cosmic whistles” known as fast radio bursts can pack a serious punch, in some cases releasing a billion times more energy in gamma-rays than they do in radio waves and rivaling the stellar cataclysms known as supernovae in their explosive power. The discovery, the first-ever finding of non-radio emission from any fast radio burst, drastically raises the stakes for models of fast radio bursts and is expected to further energize efforts by astronomers to chase down and identify long-lived counterparts to fast radio bursts using X-ray, optical, and radio telescopes.


Fast radio bursts, which astronomers refer to as FRBs, were first discovered in 2007, and in the years since radio astronomers have detected a few dozen of these events. Although they last mere milliseconds at any single frequency, their great distances from Earth — and large quantities of intervening plasma — delay their arrival at lower frequencies, spreading the signal out over a second or more and yielding a distinctive downward-swooping “whistle” across the typical radio receiver band.

“This discovery revolutionizes our picture of FRBs, some of which apparently manifest as both a whistle and a bang,” said coauthor Derek Fox, a Penn State professor of astronomy and astrophysics. The radio whistle can be detected by ground-based radio telescopes, while the gamma-ray bang can be picked up by high-energy satellites like NASA’s Swift mission. “Rate and distance estimates for FRBs suggest that, whatever they are, they are a relatively common phenomenon, occurring somewhere in the universe more than 2,000 times a day.”


Efforts to identify FRB counterparts began soon after their discovery but have all come up empty until now. In a paper recently published in Astrophysical Journal Letters the Penn State team, led by physics graduate student James DeLaunay, reports bright gamma-ray emission from the fast radio burst FRB 131104, named after the date it occurred, 4 November 2013. “I started this search for FRB counterparts without expecting to find anything,” said DeLaunay. “This burst was the first that even had useful data to analyse. When I saw that it showed a possible gamma-ray counterpart, I couldn’t believe my luck!”


Discovery of the gamma-ray “bang” from FRB 131104, the first non-radio counterpart to any FRB, was made possible by NASA’s Earth-orbiting Swift satellite, which was observing the exact part of the sky where FRB 131104 occurred as the burst was detected by the Parkes Observatory radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. “Swift is always watching the sky for bursts of X-rays and gamma-rays,” said Neil Gehrels, the mission’s principal investigator and chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “What a delight it was to catch this flash from one of the mysterious fast radio bursts.”

“Although theorists had anticipated that FRBs might be accompanied by gamma rays, the gamma-ray emission we see from FRB 131104 is surprisingly long-lasting and bright,” Fox said. The duration of the gamma-ray emission, at two to six minutes, is many times the millisecond duration of the radio emission. And the gamma-ray emission from FRB 131104 outshines its radio emissions by more than a billion times, dramatically raising estimates of the burst’s energy requirements and suggesting severe consequences for the burst’s surroundings and host galaxy.

Two common models for gamma-ray emission from FRBs exist: one invoking magnetic flare events from magnetars — highly magnetized neutron stars that are the dense remnants of collapsed stars — and another invoking the catastrophic merger of two neutron stars, colliding to form a black hole. According to coauthor Kohta Murase, a Penn State professor and theorist, “The energy release we see is challenging for the magnetar model unless the burst is relatively nearby. The long timescale of the gamma-ray emission, while unexpected in both models, might be possible in a merger event if we observe the merger from the side, in an off-axis scenario.”

“In fact, the energy and timescale of the gamma-ray emission is a better match to some types of supernovae, or to some of the supermassive black hole accretion events that Swift has seen,” Fox said. “The problem is that no existing models predict that we would see an FRB in these cases.”

The bright gamma-ray emission from FRB 131104 suggests that the burst, and others like it, might be accompanied by long-lived X-ray, optical, or radio emissions. Such counterparts are dependably seen in the wake of comparably energetic cosmic explosions, including both stellar-scale cataclysms — supernovae, magnetar flares, and gamma-ray bursts — and episodic or continuous accretion activity of the supermassive black holes that commonly lurk in the centers of galaxies.

In fact, Swift X-ray and optical observations were carried out two days after FRB 131104, thanks to prompt analysis by radio astronomers (who were not aware of the gamma-ray counterpart) and a nimble response from the Swift mission operations team, headquartered at Penn State. In spite of this relatively well-coordinated response, no long-lived X-ray, ultraviolet, or optical counterpart was seen.

The authors hope to participate in future campaigns aimed at discovering more FRB counterparts, and in this way, finally revealing the sources responsible for these ubiquitous and mysterious events. “Ideally, these campaigns would begin soon after the burst and would continue for several weeks afterward to make sure nothing gets missed. Maybe we’ll get even luckier next time,” DeLaunay said.

Astrophysicists Detect Extreme Energetic Processes of a Galaxy

A University of Oklahoma team has detected for the first time the most luminous gamma-ray emission from a galaxy. Named ‘Arp 220’, it is the nearest ultra-luminous infrared galaxy to Earth, and it reveals a hidden extreme energetic processes of a galaxy. The first gamma-ray detection of an infrared ultra-luminous galaxy occurs when the most energetic cosmic rays collide with the interstellar medium causing these galaxies to glow, expanding observations to the highest energy ranges.

apr 217

Team leader Xinyu Dai, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Oklahoma, made the discovery after collecting data using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope.

“These galaxies are different because of their immense star formation and extra dust that scatters the light and makes them luminous in the infrared,” said co-author Todd Thompson, professor in the Department of Astronomy and Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics, Ohio State University.

The team developed a collective methodology used to detect gamma-ray emissions from Arp 220. The massive amount of star formation found in infrared luminous and ultra-luminous galaxies suggest a multitude of stars go supernovae ending in one final immense explosion.

A resulting thunderous outburst accelerates charged particles to relativistic velocity eventuating into cosmic rays, which synthesize to particles and light including gamma-ray emissions. Since cosmic rays are difficult to measure, the larger spectrum of gamma-rays reveal a hidden energy component in galaxies.


Arp 220’s center contains over 200 enormous star clusters. The most massive of these clusters contains enough material to equal 10 million Suns – twice as massive to any comparable star cluster in the Milky Way. The gamma-ray emission is expected to be tractable showing two compact disks in the nucleus of Arp 200, which contains almost all star-formation activities in this galaxy.

UPDATE: New Finding Depicts Evidence how Modern Science and Ancient Text Unite


A recent news release which was published on April 29th 2016, describe a dramatic explosion occurred from a galaxy known as PKS B1424-418. Light from this blast began arriving at Earth in the year 2012. Now, an international team of astronomers, led by Matthias Kadler, professor for astrophysics at the University of Würzburg, has published their results in the scientific journal Nature Physics.

True, the acknowledgement of the 2012 event was noted and analyzed but was delivered in a mundane quiet manner due to the hysteria messages being put out about “the end of the world” and of course hollywood’s wildly over-the-top disaster movie. However, scientists I interviewed during this period were well are of Mayan prophecy and earnestly considered this coincidence.

At the same time, the high level Maya priesthood I interviewed were just as anxious to tone down the rhetoric of this set up grand pivotal point – and would speak of a more subtle movement which would involve the purging of old thoughts and habits and perhaps a time of inner reflection – I would add perhaps forced upon us as witnessed with the tough times many of us are in, and perhaps dealing unusual politics which could be an uplifting revelation realizing a broken system begging some 70 + years ago. Or it could be the nightmare many of us are fearing. Either way, change is upon us and maybe the shift comes not in the way of a decisional outcome, but how we handle, deal-with, accept or deny, empowerment or devolution.


In the summer of 2012, NASA’s Fermi satellite witnessed a dramatic brightening of galaxy PKS B1424-418, as it was producing a gamma-ray blazar. The excess luminosity of the central region is produced by matter falling toward a supermassive black hole weighing millions of times the mass of our Sun. As it approaches the black hole, some of the material becomes channeled into particle jets moving outward in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. In blazars one of these jets happens to point almost directly toward Earth.

“Within their jets, blazars are capable of accelerating protons to relativistic energies. Interactions of these protons with light in the central regions of the blazar can create pions. When these pions decay, both gamma rays and neutrinos are produced,” explains Karl Mannheim, a coauthor of the study and astronomy professor in Würzburg, Germany.


The scientists searching for the neutrino source then turned to data from a long-term observing program named TANAMI (Tracking Active Galactic Nuclei with Austral Milliarcsecond Interferometry). Since 2007, TANAMI has routinely monitored nearly 100 active galaxies in the southern sky, including many flaring sources detected by Fermi. Three radio observations between 2011 and 2013 cover the period of the Fermi outburst. They reveal that the core of the galaxy’s jet had been brightening by about four times. No other galaxy observed by TANAMI over the life of the program has exhibited such a dramatic change.

IceCube Neutrino Observatory

A dramatic explosion occurred from a galaxy known as PKS B1424-418. Light from this blast began arriving at Earth in 2012. On Dec. 4, 2012, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole detected an event known as Big Bird – a neutrino gamma ray blazer with an energy exceeding 2 quadrillion electron volts (PeV). Now, an international team of astronomers, led by Matthias Kadler, professor for astrophysics at the University of Würzburg, has published their results in the scientific journal Nature Physics.



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