Intergalactic messenger found
Date posted: Friday 5 Jul 2013
These phenomena, known as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), are bursts of radio waves that originated billions of light years away, which are likely to have been caused by some catastrophic event in the distant Universe.
The discovery was made by University of Manchester and CSIRO PhD student Dan Thornton, using data from the CSIRO Parkes 64 metre radio telescope.
It confirms the authenticity of a previously detected, but controversial signal, known as the Lorimer burst.
A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was first reported beyond our galaxy in 2007, but despite other surveys, no new bursts were found until this study.
"We have spent the last four years searching for more of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts," Mr Thornton said.
He found four more bursts, removing any doubt that they are real.
"The radio bursts last for just a few milliseconds and the furthest one that we detected was 11 billion light years away," Mr Thornton said.
The findings - taken from a tiny fraction of the sky - also suggest that there should be thousands of these bursts striking the Earth every day.
The detection system used can process 20 Gigabytes of data per second.
Swinburne Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Matthew Bailes thinks the most likely source of the bursts are cataclysmic explosions in the Universe's most magnetic neutron stars, otherwise known as magnetars.
"Magnetars can give off more energy in a millisecond than our Sun does in 300,000 years and are a leading candidate for the bursts," he said.
The researchers are now looking to determine the origin of the bursts. A precise position would enable them to "count" the number of electrons in the Universe, which would be a tremendous breakthrough for cosmology.
The team, from the UK, Germany, Italy, the USA and Australia, has recently upgraded the computer system to be able to detect the bursts in real time, using code developed by Swinburne student Ben Barsdell for his PhD thesis. This will enable immediate follow-up with other instruments to hunt down the precise location and help identify the source of the bursts.
The research has been published in the journal Science.
The institutions involved in the collaboration were the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory (UK), CSIRO, members of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) at Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne) and Curtin University (Perth), West Virginia University (USA), the INAF-Cagliari Astronomical Observatory and Cagliari University (Italy), the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA), and the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Germany).
Read Professor Matthew Bailes' article about this discovery in The Conversation.
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- Artist’s composite of the CSIRO’s 64m Parkes Radio Telescope showing an extragalactic radio burst appearing briefly, far from the Milky Way’s disk. CSIRO/Harvard/Swinburne Astronomy Productions
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