Scientists Trace Bursts of Radio Waves to Galaxy 6 Billion Light Years Ago


For nearly a decade, scientists have been perplexed by detected blasts of radio waves that come from somewhere in the universe. Now, for the first time, a team has been able to trace the origins of one of these flashes – to a galaxy 6 billion light years away.

Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, are bright radio pulses that last just a few milliseconds. Although scientists believe thousands occur every day, only 16 have been detected, and until now, no one was sure what causes them.

But studying the mysterious radio waves would allow astronomers better understanding of the evolution of the physical universe and the matter that comprises it. So, when the authors behind this recent study were able to quickly track down the location of a FRB after it was detected by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s (CSIRO) 64-meter Parkes radio telescope in Australia last April, it was a groundbreaking achievement.

“In the past FRBs have been found by sifting through data months or even years later,” lead author Evan Keane, an astronomer with the Square Kilometer Array Organization, said in a statement. “By that time it is too late to do follow up observations.”

Now, thanks to his system of email alerts based on a system that runs data from the Parkes telescope to a supercomputer, Mr. Keane and his colleagues are able to also immediately look into the detected FRBs.

By observing this particular FRB’s afterglow using the Australia Telescope Compact Array and the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, they found the source to be a very old, elliptical galaxy. Because old galaxies rarely make new stars, Keane and his team projected that the precise cause of the FRB may be from the collision of two neutron stars.

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SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor, Cathaleen Chen