Fast radio burst from a distant source captured in real-time
A short, sharp flash of radio waves from a mysterious source up to 5.5 billion light years from Earth has been detected in real-time by CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia.
Swinburne University of Technology PhD student, Emily Petroff, 'saw' the burst live – a first for astronomers.
Lasting only milliseconds, the first such radio burst was discovered in 2007 by astronomers combing old Parkes data archives for unrelated objects. Six more bursts, apparently from outside our Galaxy, have now been found with the Parkes telescope and a seventh with the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.
Astronomers worldwide have been vying to explain the phenomenon.
"These bursts were generally discovered weeks, months or even more than a decade after they happened. We are the first to catch one in real time, " Ms Petroff said.
Confident that she would spot a 'live' burst, Ms Petroff had an international team of astronomers poised to make rapid follow-up observations, at wavelengths from radio to X-ray.
After the Parkes telescope saw the burst go off, the team swung into action on twelve telescopes around the world – in Australia, California, the Canary Islands, Chile, Germany, Hawaii, and India – as well as spaced based telescopes.
"We can rule out some ideas because no counterparts were seen in the optical, infrared, ultraviolet or X-ray," CSIRO’s Head of Astrophysics, Dr Simon Johnston said.
"However, the neat idea that we are seeing a neutron star imploding into a black hole remains a possibility."
One of the big unknowns of fast radio bursts is their distance. The characteristics of the radio signal – how it is 'smeared out' in frequency from travelling through space – indicate that the source of the new burst was up to 5.5 billion light-years away.
"This means it could have given off as much energy in a few milliseconds as the Sun does in a day," Ms Petroff said.
She said identifying the origin of the fast radio bursts is now only a matter of time.
"We've set the trap. Now we just have to wait for another burst to fall into it."
The finding is published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
- "A real-time fast radio burst: polarization detection and multiwavelength follow-up" – E. Petroff, M. Bailes, E. D. Barr, B. R. Barsdell, N. D. R. Bhat, F. Bian, S. Burke-Spolaor, M. Caleb, D. Champion, P. Chandra, G. Da Costa, C. Delvaux, C. Flynn, N. Gehrels, J. Greiner, A. Jameson, S. Johnston, M. M. Kasliwal, E. F. Keane, S. Keller, J. Kocz, M. Kramer, G. Leloudas, D. Malesani, J. S. Mulchaey, C. Ng, E. O. Ofek, D. A. Perley, A. Possenti, B. P. Schmidt, Yue Shen, B. Stappers, P. Tisserand, W. van Straten and C. Wolf – MNRAS – doi: 10.1093/mnras/stu2419
Featured image: A schematic illustration of CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope receiving the polarised signal from the new ‘fast radio burst’. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions.
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There are 400,000 human species…
That’s interesting, Marlio. Since we’re made in God’s image, God has to be humanoid, like us, only a lot bigger, smarter and older. Is that correct?
I, for one, do not believe there is any other, human, Christian, life forms in the galaxy. There may be inferior, intelligent, demonic life forms, but we are the only beings made in God’s image.
Read my username to infer what you need to know