Empirical Constraints on the Origin of Fast Radio Bursts: Volumetric Rates and Host Galaxy Demographics as a Test of Millisecond Magnetar Connection

M. Nicholl, P. K.G. Williams, E. Berger, V. A. Villar, K. D. Alexander, T. Eftekhari, B. D. Metzger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


The localization of the repeating fast radio burst (FRB) 121102 to a low-metallicity dwarf galaxy at z =0.193, and its association with a luminous quiescent radio source, suggests the possibility that FRBs originate from magnetars, formed by the unusual supernovae that occur in such galaxies. We investigate this possibility via a comparison of magnetar birth rates, the FRB volumetric rate, and host galaxy demographics. We calculate average volumetric rates of possible millisecond magnetar production channels, such as superluminous supernovae (SLSNe), long and short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), and general magnetar production via core-collapse supernovae (CCSNe). For each channel, we also explore the expected host galaxy demographics using their known properties. We determine for the first time the number density of FRB emitters (the product of their volumetric birth rate and lifetime), Gpc-3, assuming that FRBs are predominantly emitted from repetitive sources similar to FRB 121102 and adopting a beaming factor of 0.1. By comparing rates, we find that production via rare channels (SLSNe, GRBs) implies a typical FRB lifetime of ∼30-300 years, in good agreement with other lines of argument. The total energy emitted over this time is consistent with the available energy stored in the magnetic field. On the other hand, any relation to magnetars produced via normal CCSNe leads to a very short lifetime of ∼0.5 years, in conflict with both theory and observation. We demonstrate that due to the diverse host galaxy distributions of the different progenitor channels, many possible sources of FRB birth can be ruled out with host galaxy identifications. Conversely, targeted searches of galaxies that have previously hosted decades-old SLSNe and GRBs may be a fruitful strategy for discovering new FRBs and related quiescent radio sources, and determining the nature of their progenitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number84
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 10 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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