According to unintentionally heartbreaking research, some planets may produce a scream-like discharge of cosmic radio waves as they disintegrate.
In a recent interview with Science News, Nanjing University astronomer Yong-Feng Huang mentioned his and his colleagues’ new research, posted in the Astrophysics Journal, in which they reveal that disintegrating planets could be responsible for some of the newly discovered and little-understood fast radio bursts (FRBs) detected from deep in the cosmos.
Until 2007, when the first FRB was found in archived observatory data, astronomers were unaware of FRBs, which are millisecond-long bursts of radio waves that have yet to be conclusively explained.
Since then, scientists have been perplexed as they attempt to comprehend what causes these enigmatic radio blasts to accumulate — and this new idea provides an interesting new option.
Huang and colleagues theorized in their study that FRBs might be the outcome of ultra-dense neutron stars colliding with their host planets. The theory is that when these planets fly past in their elliptical orbits, they are actually torn apart, resulting in elongation, distortion, and whole pieces breaking off.
The researchers suggest that once these chunks of the planet are torn off, the stellar wind of particles and radiation emitted by the neutron star may interact with them, resulting in “extremely intense radio emissions,” Huang said.
The Nianjing astronomers compared their findings to two previously reported “repeater” FRBs — one discovered in 2016 that repeats every about 160 days, and another discovered in 2017 that repeats every 16 days. The study determined that the idea of planet annihilation might very well account for both FRBs analyzed.
There is still a long way to go before we can determine what — or, more tantalizingly, who — is creating FRBs, but the thought of their being a celestial scream of radio waves definitely adds dramatic flare.