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Astronomers unveil new and puzzling features of mysterious Fast Radio Bursts

New study by international team of scientists reveals an evolving, magnetized environment and surprising source location for deep-space fast radio bursts - observations that defy current understanding.
Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in China
© Jingchuan Yu
Artist's conception of Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in China.
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-long cosmic explosions that each produce the energy equivalent to the sun's annual output. More than 15 years after the deep-space pulses of electromagnetic radio waves were first discovered, their perplexing nature continues to surprise scientists - and newly published research only deepens the mystery surrounding them.

In the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Nature, unexpected new observations from a series of cosmic radio bursts by an international team of scientists - including UNLV astrophysicist Bing Zhang - challenge the prevailing understanding of the physical nature and central engine of FRBs.

The cosmic FRB observations were made in late spring 2021 using the massive Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in China. The team, led by Heng Xu, Kejia Lee, Subo Dong from Peking University, and Weiwei Zhu from the National Astronomical Observatories of China, along with Zhang, detected 1,863 bursts in 82 hours over 54 days from an active fast radio burst source called FRB 20201124A.

"This is the largest sample of FRB data with polarization information from one single source", said Lee.

Recent observations of a fast radio burst from our Milky Way galaxy suggest that it originated from a magnetar, which is a dense, city-sized neutron star with an incredibly powerful magnetic field. The origin of very distant cosmological fast radio bursts, on the other hand, remains unknown. And the latest observations leave scientists questioning what they thought they knew about them.

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Cracks are appearing in Earth's magnetic field as the equinox approaches

Magnetic Field
© ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
Stock image of solar wind hitting the Earth's magnetic field. Due to the alignment of our magnetic field towards the sun at the equinoxes, more solar wind slips through, resulting in more auroras.
So-called cracks in the Earth's magnetic field have led to spectacular aurora light shows being seen in the skies, despite there not having been a solar storm to generate them.

According to spaceweather.com, this is called the Russell-McPherron effect, with cracks in the magnetic field letting more solar wind pass through during the equinoxes, i.e. during the spring and fall equinoxes, where both the day and night are the same length.

"The Rusell-McPherron effect is more of a geometrical effect to do with the orientation of the solar wind's magnetic field and that of the Earth. There is always a cusp or open region of the Earth's magnetic field around the north and south poles so the 'cracks' are permanent," Ciaran Beggan, a geophysicist from the British Geological Survey, told Newsweek.

This solar wind is made of plasma that has been ejected from the sun during a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is usually ejected by sunspots, which have particularly strong coronal magnetic fields. Solar winds are constantly flowing past the Earth, however, they are a lot stronger in the aftermath of a CME

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Rare Byzantine coin may show a 'forbidden' supernova explosion from A.D. 1054

Ancient Coin
© cngcoins.com/Filipovic et al
Could one of the two stars near the Emperor's head show a 'forbidden' supernova that lit up the sky over Byzantium for more than a year?
In A.D. 1054, a nearby star ran out of fuel and blew up in a dazzling supernova explosion. Though located 6,500 light-years away, the blast was clearly visible in the skies over Earth for 23 days and several hundred nights after.

The explosion, now known as SN 1054, was so bright that Chinese astronomers dubbed it a "guest star," while skywatchers in Japan, Iraq and possibly the Americas recorded the explosion's sudden appearance in writing and in stone. But in Europe — which was largely ruled at the time by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX and the Christian church — the big, bedazzling explosion in the sky was never mentioned, not even once.

Why not? Did the church simply ignore this spontaneous star, or was a more nefarious plot to cover up the reality of the cosmos at play? According to new research, a clue to the answer may hide in an unexpected place: a limited-edition gold coin.

In a study published in the August 2022 issue of the European Journal of Science and Theology, a team of researchers analyzed a series of four Byzantine gold coins minted during the reign of Constantine IX, from A.D. 1042 to 1055. While three of the coins showed only one star, the authors suggest that the fourth coin — which shows two bright stars framing an image of the emperor's head — may be a subtle, and possibly heretical depiction of the supernova of 1054.

Rainbow

Spectacular rainbow-coloured scarf cloud stunned onlookers in Haikou, China

blue
An incredible scarf cloud danced above a town in southern China earlier this week. Here's how this stunning cloud got its rainbow hue.

A town in southern China witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime sight earlier this week when a vibrant rainbow-coloured scarf cloud danced above a towering thunderstorm.

The stunning cloud formed above Haikou, a city of two million in far southern China. A billowing cumulus cloud sprouted in the tropical air over Haikou around sunset. It wasn't the cumulus that drew all the attention—it was the incredible formation that rose above it, called a pileus cloud.

Pileus, sometimes called cap clouds or scarf clouds, are smooth clouds that form atop a growing cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud.


Cloud Lightning

Rare 'red sprites' seen above Atacama Desert in Chile

A rarely seen aerial phenomenon involving bright red streaks floating in the sky was photographed above the Atacama Desert in Chile on August 22.

The European Southern Observatory's picture
© Zdenek Bardon/ESO
The European Southern Observatory's picture of the red sprites over the Atacama Desert in Chile, taken from the La Silla Observatory.
The mysterious lights, known as "red sprites," were snapped at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) La Silla Observatory, in the middle of the desert around 100 miles northeast of the city of Coquimbo.

Red sprites are so rare that they were only photographed for the first time in 1989, although legends of the scarlet lights have been reported anecdotally for centuries.

According to ESO, red sprites are a rare form of lightning very high in the Earth's atmosphere. Occurring between 30 and 55 miles high, in the troposphere layer of the atmosphere, the red lights are caused by large-scale, low-temperature electrical discharges above thunderclouds.

Solar Flares

Massive solar storm causes STEVE to reappear over North America

The aurora named STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement) and the Milky Way at Childs Lake, Manitoba, Canada
© Krista Trinder
The aurora named STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement) and the Milky Way at Childs Lake, Manitoba, Canada
The scientific phenomenon known as STEVE has been spotted in the night skies above North America this week.

STEVE - short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement - is a long, thin hot slice of gas that cuts through the sky for hundreds of miles.

It's commonly mistaken for part of the Northern Lights, but is in fact something completely different.

Nevertheless, STEVE appears to have been caused by the recent increase in the sun's activity and resulting solar storm currently encircling Earth.


Cassiopaea

Rare blue jet atmospheric phenomenon photographed over Texas, several sighted in one night

blue jet

A blue jet emerges from a thunderhead in Big Bend National Park, photographed by Matthew Griffiths in Marfa, Texas
Seeing one blue jet is rare. Photographer Matthew Griffiths just caught several of them over the Big Bend National Park in Texas. "This is by far the best," he says:

Griffiths is an amateur photographer, primarily interested in wildlife and the Milky Way. "On July 28th, I was starting a five night West Texas road trip to capture the Milky Way," he says. "But with thunderstorms in the distance I decided to try for red sprites instead."

He ended up photographing the sprite's elusive cousin, the blue jet. First recorded by cameras on the space shuttle in 1989, blue jets are part of a growing menagerie of cloudtop "transient luminous events" such as sprites, ELVES and green ghosts. They are all elusive, but blue jets may be the hardest of all to catch.


Comment: Taking into account the recency of the discoveries, along with the various other phenomena that have been occurring with an increasing frequency, some which were only just documented in the last decade or so - such as STEVE, the dunes and white picket fence auroras - and it wo nature of our planet.


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Nebula

Super sprite over the Kiso observatory, Japan

From the explanation of the Meteorological Society of Japan
[Sprite]

A lightning discharge phenomenon that occurs in the stratosphere or mesosphere above a thundercloud when there is a lightning discharge between the thundercloud and the ground. In 1989, a research group at the University of Minnesota succeeded in capturing the image by chance while testing observation equipment to be mounted on a rocket.

Professor D.D. Sentman of the University of Alaska named it after the mischievous elves Sprite Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Research on sprites has developed rapidly in recent years.


(Translated by Google)

Info

Mysteries of some atmospheric halos remain unexplained after 5,000 years

The origins of some atmospheric optical illusions remain unknown, even after millennia of observation.
Diamond Dust

For the first time in almost 5,000 years of observations, researchers have fully cataloged optical illusions created in the sky as light shines through ice crystals known as atmospheric halos.

The atmospheric halo 'inventory' details frequently seen atmospheric optical illusions from known sources as well as shedding light on rarer halos, including ones with origins that are currently a mystery.

Halos are caused by the accumulation of water ice crystals smaller than 10 micrometers in the atmosphere. Qualities of these atmospheric illusions such as their colors or whether they possess arcs, spots or white rings, are determined by the shape and orientation of the ice scatter from and the path light takes towards these crystals. Often, the type of crystal behind the scattering can be identified by the shape of the halo they create.

These atmospheric illusions have been documented by humanity since at least the Babylonian era — which began around 1895 B.C. — when the phenomena were detailed on cuneiform tablets. However, thanks to the availability of cameras as a result of the proliferation of mobile phones, scientists have never had so much data on these phenomena at the tips of their fingers.

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NASA mission to study electrical currents in Earth's upper atmosphere

Cubesats Above Atmosphere
© NASA/Johns Hopkins APL
This illustration shows the three CubeSats of NASA’s EZIE mission flying in formation above Earth. The spacecraft will study electrical currents in Earth’s atmosphere that link changes in the magnetosphere to effects at the Earth’s surface during geomagnetic storms – the same storms that trigger the colorful auroral displays.
NASA's Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer (EZIE) project - a mission to explore electrical currents in Earth's upper atmosphere - has passed a crucial developmental milestone, after rigorous review, moving the mission from the design phase to the construction phase.

EZIE will investigate auroral electrojets, which are powerful electrical currents flowing approximately 65 miles (100 kilometers) above the ground in the ionosphere, a region of Earth's atmosphere rich in ions ( charged atoms). These electrojets are connected to the beautiful auroras that dance across the polar night skies. They are part of a vast electrical circuit flowing between Earth and the surrounding space, out to some 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) away. The discoveries of EZIE will help to resolve decades-old arguments regarding the structure and evolution of the electrojets, paving the way for a more thorough understanding of Earth's space weather — magnetic events in space that can affect our ever increasingly technological society.