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A repeating fast radio burst source in a globular cluster

Abstract

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are flashes of unknown physical origin1. The majority of FRBs have been seen only once, although some are known to generate multiple flashes2,3. Many models invoke magnetically powered neutron stars (magnetars) as the source of the emission4,5. Recently, the discovery6 of another repeater (FRB 20200120E) was announced, in the direction of the nearby galaxy M81, with four potential counterparts at other wavelengths6. Here we report observations that localized the FRB to a globular cluster associated with M81, where it is 2 parsecs away from the optical centre of the cluster. Globular clusters host old stellar populations, challenging FRB models that invoke young magnetars formed in a core-collapse supernova. We propose instead that FRB 20200120E originates from a highly magnetized neutron star formed either through the accretion-induced collapse of a white dwarf, or the merger of compact stars in a binary system7. Compact binaries are efficiently formed inside globular clusters, so a model invoking them could also be responsible for the observed bursts.

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Fig. 1: Dispersion-corrected time series and dynamic spectra of the five FRB 20200120E bursts.
Fig. 2: Localization plots for FRB 20200120E.
Fig. 3: Optical images of the FRB 20200120E host and surrounding field.
Fig. 4: Continuum maps of the field around FRB 20200120E.

Data availability

The datasets generated from the EVN observations and analysed in this study are available at the Public EVN Data Archive under the experiment codes EK048B, EK048C and EK048F. The calibrated maps, plotting scripts and further data used in this manuscript are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5708237.

Code availability

The codes used to analyse the data are available at the following sites: AIPS (http://www.aips.nrao.edu/index.shtml), CASA (https://casa.nrao.edu), Difmap (https://science.nrao.edu/facilities/vlba/docs/manuals/oss2013a/post-processing-software/difmap), DSPSR (http://dspsr.sourceforge.net), FETCH (https://github.com/devanshkv/fetch), Heimdall (https://sourceforge.net/projects/heimdall-astro), IRAF (https://iraf-community.github.io/), PRESTO (https://github.com/scottransom/presto), PSRCHIVE (http://psrchive.sourceforge.net), and SpS (https://github.com/danielemichilli/SpS).

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Acknowledgements

We thank the directors and staff at the various participating stations for allowing us to use their facilities and running the observations. The European VLBI Network is a joint facility of independent European, African, Asian and North American radio astronomy institutes. Scientific results from data presented in this publication are derived from the following EVN project code: EK048. This work was also based on simultaneous EVN and PSRIX data recording observations with the 100-m telescope of the MPIfR (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie) at Effelsberg, and we thank the local staff for this arrangement. We would like to express our gratitude to W. van Straten for modifying the DSPSR software package to fit our needs. We appreciate discussions about magnetar formation scenarios in a globular cluster environment with E. P. J. van den Heuvel. Research by the AstroFlash group at University of Amsterdam, ASTRON and JIVE is supported in part by an NWO Vici grant (principal investigator (PI) J.W.T.H.; VI.C.192.045). This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreements 730562 (RadioNet) and 101004719 (OPTICON-RadioNet Pilot). A.B.P. is a McGill Space Institute (MSI) Fellow and a Fonds de Recherche du Quebec – Nature et Technologies (FRQNT) postdoctoral fellow. B.M. acknowledges support from the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MINECO) under grant AYA2016-76012-C3-1-P and from the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación under grants PID2019-105510GB-C31 and CEX2019-000918-M of ICCUB (Unidad de Excelencia “María de Maeztu” 2020–2023). Basic research in radio astronomy at NRL is funded by 6.1 Base funding. Construction and installation of VLITE was supported by the NRL Sustainment Restoration and Maintenance fund. C.J.L. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation grant 2022546. C.L. was supported by the US Department of Defense (DoD) through the National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG) programme. D.M. is a Banting Fellow. E.P. acknowledges funding from an NWO Veni Fellowship. F.K. acknowledges support from the Swedish Research Council via grant no. 2014-05713. FRB research at UBC is supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant and by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. J.Yuan is supported by the National Program on Key Research and Development Project (2017YFA0402602). K.S. is supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. K.W.M. is supported by an NSF Grant (2008031). M.Bhardwaj is supported by an FRQNT Doctoral Research Award. N.W. acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grants 12041304 and 11873080) P.S. is a Dunlap Fellow and an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow. The Dunlap Institute is funded through an endowment established by the David Dunlap family and the University of Toronto. Part of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The NANOGrav project receives support from National Science Foundation (NSF) Physics Frontiers Center award number 1430284. B.M.G. acknowledges the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through grant RGPIN-2015-05948, and of the Canada Research Chairs programme. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. S.M.R. is a CIFAR Fellow and is supported by the NSF Physics Frontiers Center award 1430284. This work is based in part on observations carried out using the 32-m radio telescope operated by the Institute of Astronomy of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (Poland) and supported by a Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education SpUB grant. This work is based in part on observations carried out using the 32-m Badary, Svetloe and Zelenchukskaya radio telescopes operated by the Scientific Equipment Sharing Center of the Quasar VLBI Network (Russia). The Sardinia Radio Telescope (SRT) is funded by the Department of University and Research (MIUR), the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Autonomous Region of Sardinia (RAS) and is operated as National Facility by the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF). V.B. acknowledges support from the Engineering Research Institute Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre (VIRAC). V.M.K. holds the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics & Cosmology and a Distinguished James McGill Professorship and receives support from an NSERC Discovery Grant and Herzberg Award, from an R. Howard Webster Foundation Fellowship from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and from the FRQNT Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Quebec. We received support from Ontario Research Fund – Research Excellence (ORF-RE) programme, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC; funding reference number RGPIN-2019-067, CRD 523638-201, 555585-20), Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the National Science Foundation of China (grant no. 11929301), Simons Foundation, Thoth Technology Inc, and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Computations were performed on the SOSCIP Consortium’s (Blue Gene/Q, Cloud Data Analytics, Agile and/or Large Memory System) computing platform(s). SOSCIP is funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario, the Province of Ontario, IBM Canada Ltd., Ontario Centres of Excellence, Mitacs and 15 Ontario academic member institutions. Based (in part) on data collected at Subaru Telescope, which is operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. AIPS is a software package produced and maintained by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

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F.K. is the Principal Investigator of the PRECISE team; he organized the observations, found the five bursts in the raw voltages and coordinated writing of the manuscript. B.M. led the analysis of the correlated data, performed the localization and wrote parts of the manuscript. K.N. led the time-domain analysis of the bursts. J.W.T.H. led the interpretation of the results and wrote parts of the manuscript. M.Bhardwaj led and performed the modelling of [PR95] 30244. S.P.T. performed the data reduction and analysis of the Subaru data. A.K. wrote and modified the software correlator SFXC to allow for the highest time resolution data. J.Yang assisted with the data reduction, analysis and interpretation of the correlated data. M.P.S. helped with the manuscript and created Extended Data Fig. 1. P.S. and A.B.P. reduced and analysed the archival Chandra data. C.J.L. reduced and analysed the Realfast data. W.M.P. reduced and analysed the VLITE data. M.G. and A.B.P. searched the Fermi catalogues. Z.P. assisted with the reduction and analysis of the correlated data. C.B. assessed the optical registration errors of the Subaru and Gaia images. D.M.H. searched the PSRIX and DFB data for bursts. U.B. coordinated and performed the observations at Effelsberg. V.B. coordinated and performed the observations at Irbene. M.Burgay helped commission the dual recording mode at SRT. S.T.B. coordinated and performed the observations at Noto. J.E.C. supported the observations at Onsala. A.C. implemented the dual recording mode at SRT and performed some of the observations. R.F. supports the observations at Toruń. O.F. wrote observing schedules. M.P.G. coordinated and performed the observations at Toruń. R.K. assisted with the dual recording at Effelsberg. M.A.K. supports the observations at Badary, Svetloe and Zelenchukskaya. M.L. supported the observations at Onsala and assisted with the manuscript. G.M. coordinated and performed the observations at Medicina. A.M. coordinated and performed the observations at Badary, Svetloe and Zelenchukskaya. A.G.M. supports the data transfer of the observations at Badary, Svetloe and Zelenchukskaya. O.S.O.-B. wrote observing schedules. A.P. supported the observations at SRT. G.S. ran most of the observations at SRT. N.W. and J.Yuan coordinated and performed the observations at Urumqi. V.M.K. played a significant coordination role that enabled these results. All other co-authors contributed to the CHIME/FRB discovery of the source or the interpretation of the analysis results and the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to F. Kirsten.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 DM and rotation measure (RM) maps around FRB 20200120E.

a, Expected Galactic DM contribution (background) according to the YMW16 model disk contribution only93, the DM of FRB 20200120E (pentagon) and the DMs of known pulsars from the ATNF Pulsar Catalogue in this field (circles)100. b, Physical Galactic Faraday depth ϕg (background)97, the RM of FRB 20200120E (pentagon) and Galactic pulsars with a known RM (circles). We assume that theRM6 of FRB 20200120E is −36.9 rad m−2.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Modelling the SED of [PR95] 30244.

The Milky Way extinction corrected flux densities of [PR95] 30244 in different wavelength bands are plotted, along with the best-fit Prospector model spectrum. To assess the quality of the Prospector model, the modelled and actual photometric data are also shown. The best-fit model profile is used to estimate the physical properties of [PR95] 30244 stated in Extended Data Table 3. Finally, the shaded region around the best-fit profile is the 1σ uncertainty region.

Extended Data Fig. 3 MCMC simulation corner plot.

The posterior probability distributions are shown for each of the five model parameters along the diagonal panels, and the correlations between model parameter posteriors are shown along the columns. Above each probability distribution, the median of the parameter posterior is printed, along with the 1σ error bars.

Extended Data Table 1 Time ranges of PRECISE runs targeting FRB 20200120E between February and May 2021
Extended Data Table 2 Set-ups at the different stations during observations used in the analysis
Extended Data Table 3 Notable properties of [PR95] 30244
Extended Data Table 4 Broadband SDSS filters used to model the SED of [PR95] 30244
Extended Data Table 5 Free parameters and their associated priors for the Prospector ‘delayed tau’ model

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Kirsten, F., Marcote, B., Nimmo, K. et al. A repeating fast radio burst source in a globular cluster. Nature 602, 585–589 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04354-w

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