Extremely short, sharp flash of radio waves from unknown source in the universe, caught as it was happening

Jan 26, 2015

Image credit: Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions

By Science Daily

A strange phenomenon has been observed by astronomers right as it was happening — a ‘fast radio burst’. The eruption is described as an extremely short, sharp flash of radio waves from an unknown source in the universe. The results have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Over the past few years, astronomers have observed a new phenomenon, a brief burst of radio waves, lasting only a few milliseconds. It was first seen by chance in 2007, when astronomers went through archival data from the Parkes Radio Telescope in Eastern Australia. Since then we have seen six more such bursts in the Parkes telescope’s data and a seventh burst was found in the data from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. They were almost all discovered long after they had occurred, but then astronomers began to look specifically for them right as they happen.

Radio-, X-ray- and visible light

A team of astronomers in Australia developed a technique to search for these ‘Fast Radio Bursts’, so they could look for the bursts in real time. The technique worked and now a group of astronomers, led by Emily Petroff (Swinburne University of Technology), have succeeded in observing the first ‘live’ burst with the Parkes telescope. The characteristics of the event indicated that the source of the burst was up to 5.5 billion light years from Earth.

Now that they had the burst location and as soon as it was observed, a number of other telescopes around the world were alerted — on both ground and in space, in order to make follow-up observations on other wavelengths.


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