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Bing Zhang Colloquium: Fast Radio Bursts and their Possible Origins

Bing Zhang (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are mysterious millisecond radio bursts whose physical origins are unknown. One source (FRB 121102) was detected to repeat and localized in a host galaxy at redshift z=0.193, suggesting that at least some (and likely all) FRBs originate from cosmological distances. After discussing the lessons learned from the studies of gamma-ray bursts and radio pulsars, two relatives of FRBs, I’ll critically review several ideas to interpret FRBs (in particular, super-giant pulses from young pulsars and repeating magnetar flares). For FRB 121102, I will argue that the current data can be interpreted within the framework of the “cosmic comb” model, which has three falsifiable predictions. After presenting the observational evidence that FRB 121102 is not representative of FRBs, I’ll comment on several possible scenarios for non-repeating FRBs. Prospects and issues of applying FRBs to study cosmology are also discussed.