Every day, thousands of enigmatic objects in space produce bursts of radio waves that flash for just a few milliseconds yet are capable of generating as much energy as 500 million suns.
Astronomers didn’t even know these fast radio bursts existed until a decade ago. In the years since, they’ve been scouring the cosmos, hoping that by pinpointing their locations, they might be able to figure out what—or perhaps who—is producing them.
Today, a team of astronomers announced that they have finally found their quarry. Relying on a global network of powerful telescopes, they managed to capture a fast radio burst that is broadcasting from a dwarf galaxy some three billion light-years away.
The discovery—described in multiple papers in Nature and the Astrophysical Journal Letters—could have profound implications. It may provide astronomers with a new window into the early universe, while also offering vital clues to a mystery that continues to challenge our perceptions of the cosmos.
“There used to be an expression, ‘as unchanging as the heavens,’” says Shami Chatterjee, one of the astronomers who located the enigmatic burst. “But the heavens are changing very fast. The sky is just boiling and seething with these incredibly powerful events that we don’t really understand.”
COUNTING ELECTRIC SHEEP
Fast radio bursts were discovered in 2007, when an astrophysicist was studying archived data collected by the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. He noticed that, on August 24, 2001, the telescope had detected a strangely powerful eruption of energy that had lasted only five milliseconds.
Initially, astronomers were skeptical. “People said, ‘What if it’s local interference, what if it’s sheep running into electric fences?’” says Chatterjee.
source: nationalgeographic.com By