A bright millisecond-duration radio burst from a Galactic magnetar


Magnetars are highly magnetized young neutron stars that occasionally produce enormous bursts and flares of X-rays and γ-rays1. Of the approximately thirty magnetars currently known in our Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds, five have exhibited transient radio pulsations2,3. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-duration bursts of radio waves arriving from cosmological distances4, some of which have been seen to repeat5,6,7,8. A leading model for repeating FRBs is that they are extragalactic magnetars, powered by their intense magnetic fields9,10,11. However, a challenge to this model is that FRBs must have radio luminosities many orders of magnitude larger than those seen from known Galactic magnetars. Here we report the detection of an extremely intense radio burst from the Galactic magnetar SGR 1935+2154 using the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) FRB project. The fluence of this two-component bright radio burst and the estimated distance to SGR 1935+2154 together imply a burst energy at 400 to 800 megahertz of approximately 3 × 1034 erg, which is three orders of magnitude higher than the burst energy of any radio-emitting magnetar detected thus far. Such a burst coming from a nearby galaxy (at a distance of less than approximately 12 megaparsecs) would be indistinguishable from a typical FRB. However, given the large gaps in observed energies and activity between the brightest and most active FRB sources and what is observed for SGR 1935+2154-like magnetars, more energetic and active sources—perhaps younger magnetars—are needed to explain all observations.

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Fig. 1: Burst waterfalls.
Fig. 2: Comparison of short radio burst energetics.

Data availability

The data used in this publication are available at https://chime-frb-open-data.github.io and in the repository at https://doi.org/10.11570/20.0006.

Code availability

The code used in this publication is available at https://chime-frb-open-data.github.io.


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We thank the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, operated by the National Research Council Canada, for hospitality and expertise. The CHIME/FRB Project is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) 2015 Innovation Fund (Project 33213), as well as by the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec, and by the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. Additional support was provided by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), McGill University and the McGill Space Institute via the Trottier Family Foundation, and the University of British Columbia. CHIME is funded by a grant from the CFI Leading Edge Fund (2012) (project 31170) and by contributions from the provinces of British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. The Dunlap Institute is funded by an endowment established by the David Dunlap family and the University of Toronto. Research at Perimeter Institute is supported by the Government of Canada through Industry Canada and by the Province of Ontario through the Ministry of Research and Innovation. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. M.B. is supported by a Fonds de Recherche Nature et Technologie Québec (FRQNT) Doctoral Research Award. P.C. is supported by an FRQNT Doctoral Research Award. M.D. is supported by a Killam Fellowship and receives support from an NSERC Discovery Grant, CIFAR, and from the FRQNT Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Québec (CRAQ). B.M.G. acknowledges the support of NSERC through grant RGPIN-2015-05948, and of the Canada Research Chairs programme. J.W.K. is supported by NSF award 1458952. V.M.K. holds the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology, a Distinguished James McGill Professorship and receives support from an NSERC Discovery Grant (RGPIN 228738-13) and a Gerhard Herzberg Award, from an R. Howard Webster Foundation Fellowship from CIFAR, and from the FRQNT CRAQ. D.M. is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow. S.M.R. is a CIFAR Fellow and is supported by the NSF Physics Frontiers Center, award 1430284. U.-L.P. receives support from Ontario Research Fund–Research Excellence (ORF-RE) programme, CFI, the Simons Foundation and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. U.-L.P. acknowledges support from NSERC (grant RGPIN-2019-067 and CRD 523638-201). Z.P. is supported by a Schulich Graduate Fellowship from McGill University. P.S. is a Dunlap Fellow and an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow. FRB research at UBC is supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant and by CIFAR.

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All authors from the CHIME/FRB Collaboration had either leadership or significant supporting roles in one or more of: the management, development and construction of the CHIME telescope, the CHIME/FRB instrument and the CHIME/FRB software data pipeline, the commissioning and operations of the CHIME/FRB instrument, the data analysis and preparation of this manuscript. All authors from the CHIME Collaboration had either leadership or significant supporting roles in the management, development and construction of the CHIME telescope.

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Correspondence to P. Scholz.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Burst fitting.

ad, Dynamic spectra and band-averaged time series (referenced to the geocentre) of fitted burst models (a), beam-attenuated burst models (b), burst data as in Fig. 1 (c) and fit residuals (d). Dynamic spectra are displayed at 0.98304-ms and 1.5625-MHz resolution, with intensity values capped at the 1st and 99th percentiles, except in d where values are capped at ±3σ around 0. The time series of bd have the same scaling. The beam attenuation of the maxima in the model dynamic spectra is about 1,700×.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Polarized intensity Faraday spectra for the two bursts.

a, The Faraday spectrum FB1 for the first sub-burst from Stokes Q and U after correcting for a leakage between Stokes U and V. b, Faraday spectrum \({F}_{{\rm{B}}2}^{\ast }\) for the second sub-burst from a single polarized flux of the ARO 10-m dish. c, The cross spectrum Fcross = \(\sqrt{{F}_{{\rm{B}}1}{F}_{{\rm{B}}2}^{\ast }}\) from the ARO 10-m dish, magnified near the peak. d, The cross spectrum from CHIME intensity data. The oscillations of the Stokes Q from Faraday rotation have leaked to the summed intensity, owing to the different response of the two linear receivers in the far sidelobe. The black lines show the amplitude of the spectra; the blue and orange lines are the real and imaginary parts of the spectra, respectively. The phase of the cross spectrum corresponds to the PA difference between the two bursts. When the real part approaches the amplitude, the two bursts have the same PA. The yellow dashed vertical line is drawn at RM = 116 rad m−2. L is the linear polarization, I is the total intensity and their indices refer to the first and second bursts.

Extended Data Fig. 3 The polarization spectra for the first observed burst from the ARO 10-m telescope.

ad, The spectrum of the first burst in the Stokes I parameter and its cubic spline-smoothed version (black line) (a), the Stokes Q parameter divided by the total linear polarization, L (b), the Stokes U parameter divided by the total linear polarization (c), and the uncalibrated polarization angle, ψ (d). The frequency channels with greater polarized intensity are indicated with darker points. The best-fit model of the Faraday rotation modulation with an RM of 116 rad m−2 is indicated by the black lines in b and c. The best-fit model of the uncalibrated polarization angle is indicated with the solid red line in d. Error bars are 1σ.

Extended Data Table 1 Nearby star-forming galaxies

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The CHIME/FRB Collaboration., Andersen, B., Bandura, K. et al. A bright millisecond-duration radio burst from a Galactic magnetar. Nature 587, 54–58 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2863-y

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