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Dead Stars Orbiting Black Holes May Explain Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts

These “fast radio bursts” (FRBs) pop up with startling frequency and intensity all across the sky, each emerging from unknown faraway extragalactic sources and packing the power output of up to hundreds of millions of suns into just a few fleeting milliseconds. Now researchers are closing in on their origins. A team studying one particular FRB some 3 billion light-years from Earth — known as FRB 121102, the only ever seen to repeat — has found it is engulfed by an extremely strong magnetic field. Such extreme magnetic fields have only previously been seen near neutron stars around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The team suggests this FRB’s mysterious source is a very young and fast-spinning, highly magnetized neutron star — a magnetar — that may be orbiting a massive black hole.

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