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A fast radio burst source at a complex magnetized site in a barred galaxy

Abstract

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are highly dispersed, millisecond-duration radio bursts1,2,3. Recent observations of a Galactic FRB4,5,6,7,8 suggest that at least some FRBs originate from magnetars, but the origin of cosmological FRBs is still not settled. Here we report the detection of 1,863 bursts in 82 h over 54 days from the repeating source FRB 20201124A (ref. 9). These observations show irregular short-time variation of the Faraday rotation measure (RM), which scrutinizes the density-weighted line-of-sight magnetic field strength, of individual bursts during the first 36 days, followed by a constant RM. We detected circular polarization in more than half of the burst sample, including one burst reaching a high fractional circular polarization of 75%. Oscillations in fractional linear and circular polarizations, as well as polarization angle as a function of wavelength, were detected. All of these features provide evidence for a complicated, dynamically evolving, magnetized immediate environment within about an astronomical unit (au; Earth–Sun distance) of the source. Our optical observations of its Milky-Way-sized, metal-rich host galaxy10,11,12 show a barred spiral, with the FRB source residing in a low-stellar-density interarm region at an intermediate galactocentric distance. This environment is inconsistent with a young magnetar engine formed during an extreme explosion of a massive star that resulted in a long gamma-ray burst or superluminous supernova.

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Fig. 1: Temporal variations of the physical parameters of FRB 20201124A.
Fig. 2: Polarization profiles, dynamic spectra and frequency-dependent polarization of selected bursts.
Fig. 3: Host-galaxy properties at optical and near-infrared wavelengths.

Data availability

Raw data are available from the FAST Data Center, http://fast.bao.ac.cn. Owing to the large data volume, we encourage contacting the corresponding author for the data transfer. The directly related data that support the findings of this study can be found at the PSRPKU website, https://psr.pku.edu.cn/index.php/publications/frb20201124a/ and the Figshare website, https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.19688854.

Code availability

PSRCHIVE (http://psrchive.sourceforge.net)

TransientX (https://github.com/ypmen/TransientX)

BEAR (https://psr.pku.edu.cn/index.php/publications/frb180301/)

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to L. C. Ho, H. Gao and R. Li for discussions. This work made use of data from the FAST. The FAST is a Chinese national megascience facility, built and operated by the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences. We acknowledge the use of public data from the Fermi Science Support Center (FSSC). This work is supported by the National SKA Program of China (2020SKA0120100, 2020SKA0120200), the Natural Science Foundation of China (12041304, 11873067, 11988101, 12041303, 11725313, 11725314, 11833003, 12003028, 12041306, 12103089, U2031209, U2038105, U1831207), the National Program on Key Research and Development Project (2019YFA0405100, 2017YFA0402602, 2018YFA0404204, 2016YFA0400801), the Key Research Program of the CAS (QYZDJ-SSW-SLH021), the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BK20211000), the Cultivation Project for FAST Scientific Payoff and Research Achievement of CAMS-CAS, the Strategic Priority Research Program on Space Science, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grants XDA15360000, XDA15052700, XDB23040400), funding from the Max Planck Partner Group, the science research grants from the China Manned Space Project (CMS-CSST-2021-B11, CMS-CSST-2021-A11) and PKU development grant 7101502590. A.V.F.’s group at University of California, Berkeley is supported by the Christopher R. Redlich Fund, the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science (in which A.V.F. was a Miller Senior Fellow) and many individual donors. S.D. acknowledges support from the Xplorer Prize. B.B.Z. is supported by Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (14380046) and the Program for Innovative Talents, Entrepreneur in Jiangsu. Some of the data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA; the observatory was made possible by the financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. We thank the Keck staff for their help during the observing runs.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

H.X., J.R.N. and P.C. led the data analysis. K.J.L., W.W.Z., S.D. and B.Z. coordinated the observational campaign, cosupervised data analyses and interpretations, and led the paper writing. J.C.J. conducted the polarization and RM measurements. B.J.W., J.W.X., C.F.Z. and K.J.L. performed the timing analysis, periodicity search, DM measurement, burst searching and Faraday conversion measurement. Y.P.M. contributed to the searching software development. R.N.C., M.Z.C., L.F.H., Y.X.H., Z.Y.L., Z.X.L., Y.H.X. and J.P.Y. performed software testing. D.J.Z., Y.K.Z., P.W., Y.F., C.H.N., F.Y.W., X.F.W. and S.B.Z. contributed to radio data analysis. P.C., S.D., H.F., A.V.F., E.W.P., T.G.B., S.G.D., P.G., D.S., A.S., W.K.Z. and A.E. contributed to the optical observations and data reduction; A.V.F. also edited the manuscript in detail. P.C., S.D., H.F. and Y.L. contributed to analysing and interpreting the optical data. P.J., H.Q.G., J.L.H., H.L., L.Q., J.H.S., R.Y., Y.L.Y., D.J.Y. and Y.Zhu. aided with the FAST observations. J.L.H., D.L., M.W. and N.W. helped with observation coordination. K.J.L., B.Z., D.Z.L., W.Y.W., R.X.X., W.L., Y.P.Y., W.F.Y., Z.G.D. and R.L. provided theoretical discussions. C.C., C.K.L., X.Q.L., W.X.P., L.M.S., S.X., S.L.X., J.Y., X.Y., Q.B.Y., B.B.Z., S.N.Z., J.H.Z. and Y.Zhao contributed to the high-energy observations and data analyses.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to K. J. Lee, W. W. Zhu, S. Dong or B. Zhang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature thanks Shami Chatterjee and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Extended data

is available for this paper at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05071-8.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Temporal variations of extra physical parameters.

a, Shape parameter (k) of Weibull distribution in event-rate inference. The error bar is at 68% confidence level. b,c, Daily burst energy and DM, in which the violin symbol indicates the distribution function, the green shaded strips indicate the 95% upper and lower bounds and the solid black curve is the median.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Fluence, equivalent width and energy distribution for detected bursts.

a,b, Cumulative distribution and histogram of the burst fluence; the dashed vertical red line at 53 mJy ms indicates the 95% completeness threshold. c, The 2D distribution of fluence and burst width. d, Histogram of burst width. e,f, Cumulative distribution and histogram of FRB 20201124A burst energy; the dashed vertical black line at 2 × 1036 erg indicates 95% completeness assuming a burst bandwidth of 185 MHz, the median of the burst bandwidths. The broken power law fit to the cumulative distribution of energy is the solid black curve, with the break point at 1.1 × 1038 erg indicated by a dot-dashed vertical line.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Waiting time distribution of FRB 20201124A.

a, The best fit using two log-normal functions (the blue curve), in which the two log-normal distributions peak at 39 ms and 106.7 s. b, The best fit (blue curve) using three log-normal functions, which are indicated with the dashed-line curves, peaking at 39 ms, 45.1 s and 162.3 s.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Apparent RM variation within individual bursts.

RM curve with 95% confidence level error bars (a), polarization profiles (b) and dynamic spectra (c). Bursts are dedispersed using corresponding structure-optimized DM values.

Extended Data Fig. 5 RM index.

a, Histogram of normalized RM index deviation defined as (β − 2)/σβ, in which σβ is the uncertainty of β with 68% confidence level. b, RM as a function of time. Orange dots are for selected bursts with (β − 2)/σβ  ≤  1 and the measurements not selected are blue dots.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Properties of the host galaxy at z = 0.098 in the optical and near-infrared.

a, i-Band and K′-band FRB 20201124A host-galaxy images by the LRIS and the NIRC2 camera, respectively, and the residual K′-band image after subtracting the disc component. The EVN localization of FRB 20201124A is indicated with the cyan circle, which is 60 mas in radius, that is, four times the uncertainty. The centre of the background galaxy (z = 0.553) is shown as the yellow asterisk. b, The Hα double-peaked profile shown in the medium-resolution ESI spectrum. Blue and red are for two different orders of the echelle spectrum. c, 2D spectroscopic image by the LRIS around the Hα emission line. A wavelength-dependent variation is clearly seen in the spatial direction. d, The Hα lines extracted from three different regions, which correspond to the three rectangles in panel c of the galaxy along the slit. e, The velocities at different projected distances in the slit direction relative to the continuum centre. The red line is the best-fit result of a simple rotation model The LRIS spectroscopic observations were taken with a seeing of 0.7″ (black bar), which sets the spatial resolution.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Properties of the galaxies and comparisons with other FRB hosts.

a, Hosts of FRB repeaters in the BPT diagram plotted with the SDSS DR8 MPA-JHU sample (black); parameter spaces of galaxies dominated by star formation and active galactic nuclei are separated by the dashed and solid black lines, respectively87,88. The host and background galaxies of FRB 20201124A are shown in red and yellow, respectively. b, The properties (FRB–galaxy offset in units of galaxy effective radius Re, gas-phase metallicity, sSFR and stellar mass) of the FRB 20201124A host galaxy (red star) compared with a literature sample of FRB hosts (available at https://web.archive.org/web/20211015143528/https://frbhosts.org/#explore) shown with dots (black, non-repeaters; red, repeaters). c, Emission lines from the background galaxy at z = 0.553 in the LRIS (blue) and ESI (red) spectra, with regions contaminated by the atmosphere of the Earth marked in green.

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Xu, H., Niu, J.R., Chen, P. et al. A fast radio burst source at a complex magnetized site in a barred galaxy. Nature 609, 685–688 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05071-8

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