Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-long cosmic explosions that each produce the energy equivalent to the sun's annual output.

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More than 15 years after the deep-space pulses of electromagnetic radio waves were first discovered

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their perplexing nature continues to surprise scientists—and newly published research only deepens the mystery surrounding them.

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In the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Nature, unexpected new observations from a series of cosmic fast radio bursts by an international team of scientists—including UNLV astrophysicist Bing Zhang

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challenge the prevailing understanding of the physical nature and central engine of FRBs.

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

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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.

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What makes the latest observations surprising to scientists is the irregular, short-time variations of the so-called "Faraday rotation measure"

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"I equate it to filming a movie of the surroundings of an FRB source, and our film revealed a complex, dynamically evolving, magnetized environment that was never imagined before," said Zhang.

The study, "A fast radio burst source at a complex magnetized site in a barred galaxy", appeared September 21 in the journal Nature and includes 74 co-authors from 30 institutions.

In addition to UNLV, Peking University, and the National Astronomical Observatories of China, collaborating institutions also include Purple Mountain Observatory