According to a joint press release from The Royal Astronomical Society in the UK on behalf of CAASTRO and CAASTRO The Arc Center of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics, CSIRO’s 64-m Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia has caught “fast radio burst” for the first time.
The first radio burst was found in 2007 by cosmologists working on the Parkes data archive. The first burst lasted just milliseconds. From that point forward, there have been six more flashes that researchers accept are originating from outside our Milky Way galaxy.
Emily Petroff, a Ph.d. student co-supervised by CSIRO and by Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia said, “These bursts were usually found weeks or months or even years after they happened! We’re the first to catch one in real time.”
The burst was just radio – no optical, infrared, UV or X-ray follow up. Mansi Kasliwal, team member from the Carnegie Institution in Pasadena, Calif said, “That in itself precludes some likely contenders, for example, long gamma-ray bursts and close-by supernovae.”
Kasliwal said that low-energy gamma-ray bursts, imploding neutron stars and goliath flares from remote magnetars (“most attractive stars in the universe”) can’t be precluded.
By recognizing the characteristics of the radio signals, researchers can decide how far away the source of the burst is. The last burst was dogged to be 5.5 billion light-years away. “That implies it could have given off as much energy in a couple of milliseconds as the Sun does in a day,” said researcher Daniele Malesani of the University of Copenhagen, as per the press release.
The live detection of the burst also left another clue – its polarization. The vibration from electromagnetic waves can be linear or round. The radio burst caught by Petroff was more than 20% circularly polarized. That implies there must be magnetic fields near to the source.
“We have set the trap. Now we simply need to hold up for another burst to fall into it,” Petroff said.