Fast radio bursts
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are very energetic and so far sporadic radio signals that are of unknown — but probably cosmological — origin. Only a few tens of FRBs have been detected since the first reported incidence in 2007. This Nature Astronomy Collection is based upon a Focus issue that was extremely timely: almost as many new FRB sources were reported in the ~12 weeks it took to write and edit the component articles as in the preceding 12 years.
Central to the Collection are a Perspective from Duncan Lorimer, one of the founders of the field, and a Review Article from Evan Keane, who looks towards a promising future. We also feature several Comments that address the key questions that are driving current research: what are the sources of FRBs? Is there more than one type of FRB? Are FRBs exclusively a radio phenomenon? How can we use FRBs as tools to probe the cosmos? What lessons can we learn from reflecting on the study of gamma-ray bursts? Finally, the Mission Control article showcases one of the facilities that is heralding an exciting second decade of FRB observations: the Australian SKA Pathfinder array.
Perspective and Review
The first fast radio burst (FRB) was discovered in 2007, and in the following decade ~25 more were detected. Now the field stands on the brink of an explosion of detections, largely driven by the availability of new radio facilities. One of the founders of the field, Duncan Lorimer, reviews the early years of FRB science.
The second decade of fast radio burst (FRB) astronomy has started at pace, with detections of tens of new FRBs from newly operational facilities such as ASKAP and CHIME. Evan Keane looks forward to the upcoming years and the discoveries they will bring.
Comments and opinions
The field of gamma-ray burst astronomy arguably went through three decades of growing pains before reaching maturity. What development lessons can be learned for the adolescent field of fast radio burst astronomy?
Fast radio bursts were discovered just over a decade ago, and their origin remains a mystery. Despite this disadvantage, astronomers have been using them to investigate the matter through which their bright, impulsive radiation travels.
To date, one repeating and many apparently non-repeating fast radio bursts have been detected. This dichotomy has driven discussions about whether fast radio bursts stem from a single population of sources or two or more different populations. Here we present the arguments for and against.
Physical constraints on the sources of fast radio bursts are few, and therefore viable theoretical models are many. However, no one model can match all the available observational characteristics, meaning that these radio bursts remain one of the most mysterious phenomena in astrophysics.
Multi-wavelength and multi-messenger astronomy will reveal the phenomena that produce fast radio bursts, turning fast radio bursts into sharper tools with which to probe extragalactic plasma.
One of the astrophysical sources that gives rise to the mysterious transients known as fast radio bursts is embedded in a highly magnetized environment, such as the vicinity of an accreting massive black hole or the birth nebula of a highly magnetized neutron star.
The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder will be a key tool in future searches for fast radio bursts and other transient phenomena, and is already reaping rewards, explains Principal Engineer Keith Bannister.