SYDNEY – Australian astronomers have discovered 20 fast radio bursts, likely from an object between six and eight billion light years away, which in a few milliseconds emit the same amount of energy that the sun releases in about 80 years, according to a report published by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research on Thursday.
The source of these radio bursts, which almost double the number previously detected, remain a mystery to astronomers.
“We’ve found 20 fast radio bursts in a year, almost doubling the number detected worldwide since they were discovered in 2007,” said author Dr. Ryan Shannon, from Swinburne University of Technology.
Using a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) radio telescope, Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), the researchers were able to detect brightest and nearest fast radio bursts ever.
Scientists have yet to determine the causes of these bursts that last only a few milliseconds and use energy-equivalent to the amount released by the Sun in 80 years, according to a statement by ICRAR.
“Fast radio bursts are coming from the other side of the Universe rather than from our own galactic neighborhood,” Shannon added.
Co-author Dr Jean-Pierre Macquart, from the Curtin University – node of ICRAR – said that “bursts travel for billions of years and occasionally pass through clouds of gas.”
“Each time this happens, the different wavelengths that make up a burst are slowed by different amounts,” Macquart said.
“Eventually, the burst reaches Earth with its spread of wavelengths arriving at the telescope at slightly different times, like swimmers at a finish line,” he added.
“Timing the arrival of the different wavelengths tells us how much material the burst has travelled through on its journey (...) and because we’ve shown that fast radio bursts come from far away, we can use them to detect all the missing matter located in the space between galaxies,” Macquart said.
The researchers are now working on studying the cause of these bursts and localize their galaxy of origin.
“We’ll be able to localize the bursts to better than a thousandth of a degree (...) about the width of a human hair seen ten meters away, and good enough to tie each burst to a particular galaxy,” Dr. Shannon said.
ASKAP, a precursor for the future Square Kilometre Array telescope is situated at Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia.