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WVU researchers on team that detected strange cosmic ‘heartbeat’


From the depths of space, astronomers have detected a “heartbeat.”  

The “heartbeat” turns out to be another mysterious Fast Radio Burst (FRB), but this one sounds quite unique. 

Researchers from West Virginia University are on the scientific team that recently discovered FRB 20191221A, which exudes a heartbeat like radio signal, which was picked up by the CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, below) radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Observatory in Penticton, BC Canada. The detection is described in the journal, Nature, published on July 13.

CHIME telescope

Learning from the heartbeat

Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, are transient radio pulses ranging in length from a fraction of milliseconds to a few milliseconds; quite fast like the name suggests. The cause or origin of FRBs are still unknown.

FRB 20191221A changed the standards upon detection. Upon detection, astronomers of the team recorded the new signal persisting for up to three seconds, about 1,000 times longer than the average FRB known to date. Now, the longest lasting FRB, it also has the clearest periodic pattern to date. 

The periodicity, or repetition pattern, suggests strong evidence of a neutron star origin. 

Kevin Bandura

Kevin Bandura, associate professor, West Virginia University

Team members from West Virginia University on the CHIME/FRB Collaboration include:

Kevin Bandura (above), associate professor, and Pranav Sanghavi, graduate research assistant are both in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Emmanuel Fonseca, assistant professor, and Joseph Kania, a graduate research assistant, are both in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Additionally, all four researchers are members of the Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology. The Center addresses cutting-edge astrophysics problems through interdisciplinary collaboration across physics, astronomy, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

Bandura’s scientific expertise focuses on instrumentation, specifically wide-field survey Radio Astronomy instruments, such as CHIME, to detect and learn more about FRBs.

Joseph Kania

Kania (above), who works on the CHIME Cosmology team, describes the unique detection as more of a clue to be added towards solving the mysterious relationship between FRBs and neutron stars. The idea that this FRB could originate from a neutron star, an extremely dense, rapidly spinning collapsed core of giant stars, has strong evidence behind it. “This detection of periodicity in a fast radio burst highlights CHIME’s unique capabilities and provides more clues to the relationship between FRBs and neutron stars.” 

Emmanuel Fonseca

“This study yields the first identification of a pulsar-like periodicity on the order of a second or less in FRB emission,” explains Fonseca. “This is a uniquely important measurement as it lends further credence to the idea that FRBs come from neutron stars.”

“This detection of periodicity in a fast radio burst highlights CHIME’s unique capabilities and provides more clues to the relationship between FRBs and neutron stars.”  Joseph Kania

Sanghavi (below) has more optimistic views for this discovery and what’s to come in the future with more detections and focused data.

Pranav Sanghavi

“We will eventually be able to confirm this with more certainty (the neutron star origin of some FRBs) by investigating the immediate host environment,” explains Sanghavi. Plans are in motion with a new full outrigger currently being built in Green Bank, West Virginia, home of the Green Bank Telescope. This brand-new outrigger is an NSF funded project and will act as a complementary CHIME telescope that will have the technological abilities to localize FRB signals and give more accurate localizations of the source to a specific region within the galaxy.  Something the current CHIME telescope hasn’t been able to do.

Diving deep into the cosmos with more advanced telescopes collaborating across the globe, the mysterious origin of the FRB may not be so mysterious soon. 

For more information on FRB 20191221A detection, please visit:

For more information on the CHIME/FRB team, please visit:

For more information on the Green Bank Outrigger, please visit:

Media Contact:

Holly Legleiter, Public Relations Coordinator

Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology, West Virginia University