Outer space is chirping, and no one quite knows why.
Known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs for short, these very brief yet incredibly powerful bursts of radio wave energy appear to be coming from all corners of the universe. And while astronomers can pick up such signals, they are, because of their brief duration, very difficult to study. Very few of them ever repeat; and since they only last a millisecond, telescopes can rarely focus on them in time to get a good look. Moreover, astronomers do not quite know exactly where they are coming from, or where the next one might land.
All of this uncertainty around fast radio bursts has only heightened their mystery.
But astronomers may have found some answers in a fast radio burst that, unusually, repeats — which has given them more opportunities to study the strange signals.
Dubbed FRB 121102, the first repeating FRB has revealed new insights about this mysterious phenomenon. According to a study published in Nature last week, an international group of scientists found 1,652 independent radio bursts from the same source over the course of 47 days between August 29 and October 29, 2019. The analysis is significant for being the largest set of FRBs ever recorded from a single source. At one point during observation, 122 radio bursts occurred in the span of one hour from the source.
"This was the first time that one FRB source was studied in such great detail," said astrophysicist Bing Zhang, an astrophysicist at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas and one of the study's corresponding authors. "The large burst set helped our team hone in like never before on the characteristic energy and energy distribution of FRBs, which sheds new light on the engine that powers these mysterious phenomena."
Part of the mystery around FRBs is that they are relatively new to science. Scientists discovered the first FRBs in 2007, and have since turned to powerful radio telescopes to track down the bursts and search for clues on where they originate and how they are produced. One prominent theory on their origins is that they spawn from a type of incredibly dense neutron star called a magnetar, which have some of the strongest magnetic fields in the universe. Another theory posits that FRBs emerge from shock waves traveling at near light-speed outside a magnetosphere.
In a news release, Zhang said the latest observations "pose great challenges to the latter model."
"The bursts are too frequent and — given that this episode alone amounts to 3.8% of the energy available from a magnetar — it adds up to too much energy for the second model to work," Zhang said.
Pei Wang, one of the article's lead authors from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), agreed.
"During its most active phase, FRB 121102 included 122 bursts measured within a one-hour period, the highest repeat rate ever observed for any FRB," Wang said.
Indeed, in a separate study published in Nature in June 2020 suggested that some fast radio bursts could be coming from a magnetar in our galaxy nearly 10,000 parsecs away.
"Because magnetars are spinning quickly and have powerful magnetic fields, they have huge reservoirs of energy that can produce outbursts," Alexandra Witze wrote in Nature. "One idea about the source of these outbursts is that something happening inside the magnetar — such as a 'starquake,' analogous to an earthquake — could crack its surface and release energy."
While their precise causes remain a mystery, astrophysicists have mostly ruled out the possibility that these mysterious radio waves are coming from an alien civilization, as Salon has previously reported.
"It is unlikely that all FRBs are from alien civilizations due to the power requirements at cosmological distances, but possible," Avi Loeb, the former chair of Harvard's astronomy department previously told Salon.
In a column for the conservative Bulwark, historians Thomas Lecaque and J.L. Tomlin claim that conservative gadfly Steve Bannon is busily and unabashedly setting the stage for a second insurrection at the same time he is facing a criminal referral for refusing to testify before Congress on the Jan 6th attack.
Late Tuesday, the bipartisan House riot committee is expected to vote on citing the former Donald Trump White House official for criminal contempt of Congress which will then be referred to the Justice Department.
At that point, according to Jonathan David Shaub, a former attorney for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the Biden White House would have to provide the DOJ with a waiver to go ahead with the prosecution of Bannon.
While the investigators' pursuit of Bannon plays out in Congress and likely the courts, the Bulwark report notes that Bannon has been keeping himself busy by continuing pushing Trump's big lie that the election was stolen, while at the same time encouraging crowds to get ready to take to the streets and not give up.
Writing, "... it is worth noting that Bannon's troubling activities did not stop after January 6. Far from it. He is still out in the streets, at rallies, on conference calls, and on his podcast trumpeting it to the heavens: The insurrection isn't over, it's only just begun," the two historians added, "Bannon is neither hiding nor defensively trying to justify his past actions. Rather, he is continuing to push the Big Lie and all of its permutations, tying together a web of far-right ideas and allies. Like most good propagandists, he knows that the veil between fact and belief is very thin in a highly partisan political environment."
Case in point , they note, are three recent appearances Bannon has made to fire up Trump partisans.
According to the Bulwark column, Bannon appeared at the Capitol Hill Club on September 29 to launch the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, where he rallied the troops and claimed they needed to prepare for taking over the government again with "shock troops" needed.
"We control the country. We've got to start acting like it. And one way we're going to act like it, we're not going to have 4,000 [shock troops] ready to go, we're going to have 20,000 ready to go," he exhorted the crowd.
One week later Bannon attended the Rod of Iron Freedom Festival, an annual event that brings together conservatives with evangelical Christians where they plot to work on common goals.
As the historians wrote, "Bannon's address to the group contained all of the half-truths, gross exaggerations, invented evidence, and irrational interpretations endemic to today's MAGA-populist GOP. What is new is his insistence, based on an existing conflation between revolutionary clergy and modern Christian conservatives, that religious leaders should advocate the rejection of President Biden and his 2020 election victory as an act of piety among their followers."
They added, "... it is hard to think of a time—other than during the Civil War—when clergy have been so publicly advised by a national political actor to advocate open insurrectionism against the U.S. government and our system of elections, " adding, "At best, their beliefs are being exploited by cynical men like Bannon and Trump, who want to use them as a voting bloc. At worst, these groups' beliefs could be manipulated by leaders they respect and by genuine fears they harbor to provoke otherwise law-abiding American citizens into acts of violence and treason."
Lastly, they note, Bannon headlined the Take Back Virginia Rally on October 13 where, they report, "...there was Bannon, who said that "we're putting together a coalition that's going to govern for 100 years" while selling the Big Lie. All of this at a rally where the host, Martha Boneta, had the crowd recite the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag supposedly waved in Washington during the events of January 6."
"On his podcast, in his speeches, and in his interviews, Steve Bannon combines anti-democratic claims: the election was stolen, the insurrection was peaceful, we will build a centennial dynasty that cannot be shaken," Lecaque and Tomlin wite, before warning, "If the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection are becoming the "New Lost Cause" of the GOP, Bannon wants to organize its new fascist apparatus. The charge of contempt of Congress is a good start. But will it be enough?"
You can read more here.
On Tuesday, a full day after the news of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's death from COVID-19 complications, former President Donald Trump released a short statement commenting on his passing.
The statement, posted to Twitter by spokesperson Liz Harrington, was riddled with insults against Powell, who twice endorsed his Democratic opponents for president. Trump called him a "classic RINO [Republican in name only]" who "made big mistakes on Iraq" and was always "first to attack other Republicans."
He also took a jab at the media for not covering him as glowingly as Powell, a decorated Vietnam veteran who served in various diplomatic, military, and national security roles under four presidents, remarking that Powell was "treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media" and that he hopes "that happens to me someday."
"Given the chance to be gracious about someone's death, or say nothing at all, Trump takes a decidedly different route," said New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman in response to the statement. "And of course it's larded in envy about coverage."
Read the full statement below:
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