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On 28 April, as Earth’s rotation swept a Canadian radio telescope across the sky, it watched for mysterious millisecondslong flashes called fast radio bursts (FRBs). At 7:34 a.m. local time an enormous one appeared, but awkwardly, in the peripheral vision of the scope. “It was way off the edge of the telescope,” says Paul Scholz, an astronomer at the University of Toronto and a member of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). Because of its brightness, the team knew its source was nearby. All other FRBs seen so far have erupted in distant galaxies—too far and too fast to figure out what produced them.

The team had a hunch about this one. In previous days, orbiting telescopes had witnessed a Milky Way magnetar—a neutron star with a powerful magnetic field—flinging out bursts of x-rays and gamma rays. The turmoil suggested it might be pulsing with radio waves, too. After some extra data processing, the team determined the FRB was “definitely colocated” with the magnetar, Scholz says. “We were really excited.”

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Category: Science