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Planets Scream As They’re Ripped Apart, Astronomers Say

Unintentionally heartbreaking research suggests that as some planets break up, they may let out cosmic radio waves that sound like screams.

In a recent interview with Science News, astronomer Yong-Feng Huang from Nanjing University talked about his and his colleagues’ new research, which was published in the Astrophysics Journal. In it, they show that some of the newly discovered and poorly understood fast radio bursts (FRBs) could be caused by planets breaking apart.

Astronomers didn’t know about FRBs until 2007, when the first one was found in old observatory data. FRBs are short bursts of radio waves that haven’t been fully explained yet.

Since then, scientists have been baffled as they try to figure out why these mysterious radio blasts keep coming back. This new idea gives them an interesting new option.

In their study, Huang and his colleagues thought that FRBs might be caused when ultra-dense neutron stars crash into their host planets. The idea is that when these planets fly by each other in their elliptical orbits, they tear each other apart, causing them to get longer, warp, and even break into whole pieces.

Researchers think that once these pieces of the planet are torn off, the neutron star’s stellar wind of particles and radiation may interact with them, causing what Huang called “extremely intense radio emissions.”

The astronomers from Nianjing compared their results to two “repeater” FRBs that had already been found. One was found in 2016 and repeats every 160 days, and the other was found in 2017 and repeats every 16 days. The study found that the idea of the end of the world could very well explain both FRBs that were looked at.

We still have a long way to go before we can figure out what or, more intriguingly, who is making FRBs, but the idea that they are a cosmic scream of radio waves adds drama.


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