Researchers have used a radio telescope in Australia to nearly double the number of known ‘fast radio bursts’ – mysterious, powerful radio flashes from deep space.
The team using the CSIRO telescope in Western Australia have detected the closest – and brightest – radio bursts ever detected.
Fast radio bursts are bright pulses of radio emission milliseconds in duration, which release as much energy as the Sun does in 80 years.
The source of these emissions is still unclear, however – and some suggest they could be from extraterrestrials.
Theories range from highly magnetized neutron stars blasted by gas streams from a nearby supermassive black hole, to signatures of technology developed by an advanced civilisation.
Lead author Dr Ryan Shannon from Swinburne University of Technology said, ‘We’ve found 20 fast radio bursts in a year, almost doubling the number detected worldwide since they were discovered in 2007.
‘Using the new technology of the Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), we’ve also proved that fast radio bursts are coming from the other side of the universe rather than from our own galactic neighbourhood.
CSIRO’s Dr. Keith Bannister, who engineered the systems that detected the bursts, said, ‘The telescope has a whopping field of view of 30 square degrees, 100 times larger than the full Moon.
‘And, by using the telescope’s dish antennas in a radical way, with each pointing at a different part of the sky, we observed 240 square degrees all at once – about a thousand times the area of the full Moon. ASKAP is astoundingly good for this work.’
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Dr. Shannon said we now know that fast radio bursts originate from about halfway across the universe but we still don’t know what causes them or which galaxies they come from.
The team’s next challenge is to pinpoint the locations of bursts on the sky.