Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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

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 fast radio bursts observed by CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope in ‘fly’s eye mode.’ Each antenna points in a slightly different direction, giving maximum sky coverage.
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. (Image: OzGrav via 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:

What the fast radio bursts look like when averaged over all frequencies.
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. (Image: Ryan Shannon via 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:

Fast radio bursts originate from about halfway across the Universe

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 in 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). (Image: OzGrav via 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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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.
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