Astronomers Are Getting Closer to Explaining Those Mysterious Radio Bursts from Space

Wednesday, 24 February 2016 - 2:50PM
Astronomy
Alien Life
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 - 2:50PM
Astronomers Are Getting Closer to Explaining Those Mysterious Radio Bursts from Space
Fast radio bursts were discovered by astronomers almost fifteen years ago, and yet there is still no generally accepted explanation for the phenomenon. Now, researchers at the Parkes radio telescope in Australia have brought us closer to the answer than ever before, as they have finally pinpointed the location of one of the radio bursts.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are high-energy astronomical phenomena that are detected on Earth as transient radio signals, pulses which last as little as a few milliseconds. They were first found in 2001 in archival data, and while many explanations have been proposed, we haven't actually learned very much about them. The frequency-dependent dispersion of the pulses indicated that they may have traveled through the plasma-filled intergalactic medium, and therefore originated from an extragalactic location, but this theory had never been confirmed.

Now, the new study, published today in Nature, details the discovery of the location of one of the pulses, FRB 150418. On April 18, 2015, this potent burst released twice the energy of our Sun in just a few milliseconds. It was detected by the Parkes telescope almost immediately, which allowed astronomers to make quick observations and narrow down the pulse's location of origin. They traced it back to an ancient elliptical galaxy, over 6 billion light years away from Earth.

Fast Radio Bursts from Space

Since FRBs are so elusive, this is a huge discovery in itself, but the location also sheds some light on the cause of the bursts. The prevailing theory was that the bursts were emitted from pulsars, but since the galaxy is relatively old, and pulsars are, by definition, relatively new, that explanation can now be eliminated.

Opening quote
"Something like a pulsar doesn't live that long, so when you see it, it is young, and not that long since it was born," Keane told Gizmodo. "So as there is low or no star formation happening in the galaxy now it means the source is probably not from a young stellar population."
Closing quote

The researchers also found that the location was also inconsistent with a supernova, but there are several other explanations that haven't been ruled out. Researchers have hypothesized that the pulsars could be emitted from collapsing black holes, neutron stars, or blitzars. There are also theories that the bursts are connected to gamma ray bursts or the hyperflares of magnetars.

The most interesting explanation, as always, is that the pulses are messages from intelligent extraterrestrials. And while there is no indication that this explanation is any more plausible than the others (yet), we might be getting closer to finding out for sure. Narrowing down the location of a pulse was a major step, and now that we have detected gravitational waves, scientists can analyze the spacetime ripples that result from this phenomenon.

Opening quote
"The next big thing for FRB hunters, and gravitational wave hunters, is to find something emitting in both domains," Keane said. "With multi-messenger work like that we can do amazing physics."
Closing quote
Science
Space
Astronomy
Alien Life

Load Comments