Aussie Telescope Almost Doubles Number of Mysterious ‘Fast Radio Bursts’

Antennas of CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder with the Milky Way overhead. (Credit: Alex Cherney / CSIRO)
Antennas of CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder with the Milky Way overhead. (Credit: Alex Cherney / CSIRO)

Australian researchers using a CSIRO radio telescope in Western Australia have nearly doubled the known number of “fast radio bursts” —  powerful flashes of radio waves from deep space. The team’s discoveries include the closest and brightest fast radio bursts ever detected.

Fast radio bursts come from all over the sky and last for just milliseconds. Scientists don’t know what causes them, but it must involve incredible energy — equivalent to the amount released by the Sun in 80 years. Lead author Dr Ryan Shannon, from Swinburne University of Technology and the OzGrav ARC Centre of Excellence, said:

An artist’s impression of CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope observing ‘fast radio bursts’ in ‘fly’s eye mode’. Each antenna points in a slightly different direction, giving maximum sky coverage. (Credit: OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology)

An artist’s impression of CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope observing ‘fast radio bursts’ in ‘fly’s eye mode.’ Each antenna points in a slightly different direction, giving maximum sky coverage. (Credit: OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology)

Co-author Dr Jean-Pierre Macquart, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said bursts travel for billions of years and occasionally pass through clouds of gas, adding:

For each burst, the top panels show what the FRB signal looks like when averaged over all frequencies. The bottom panels show how the brightness of the burst changes with frequency. The bursts are vertical because they have been corrected for dispersion. (Credit: Ryan Shannon and the CRAFT collaboration)

For each burst, the top panels show what the FRB signal looks like when averaged over all frequencies. The bottom panels show how the brightness of the burst changes with frequency. The bursts are vertical because they have been corrected for dispersion. (Credit: Ryan Shannon and the CRAFT collaboration)

CSIRO’s Dr Keith Bannister, who engineered the systems that detected the bursts, said ASKAP’s phenomenal discovery rate is down to two things, saying:

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. Dr. Shannon said:

An artist’s impression showing one of CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope antennas observing a fast radio burst (FRB). 
(Credit: OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology)

An artist’s impression showing one of CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope antennas observing a fast radio burst (FRB). (Credit: OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology)

ASKAP is located at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia and is a precursor for the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. The SKA could observe large numbers of fast radio bursts, giving astronomers a way to study the early Universe in detail.

CSIRO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the traditional owners of the MRO site. Their findings were reported in the journal Nature.

Provided by: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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