Source of Fast Radio Burst Detected For The First Time

For the first time, astronomers have identified the source of a fast radio burst (FRB) about 6 billion light years away.

The discovery is helping scientists work out what makes these mysterious bursts. The findings challenge the theory that FRBs are caused by emissions associated with star birth.


An artists impression of a fast radio burst (FRB). Image credit: Beijing Planetarium

According to astronomers, fast radio bursts (FRBs) are flashes of energy from space that appear as millisecond bursts of radio waves to telescopes on Earth. They emit as much energy in a brief-flash then the Sun emits in 10,000 years, however, the phenomena that causes them is still unknown.

“Our discovery opens the way to working out what makes these bursts,” said Dr. Simon Johnston, co-author of a paper published in the journal Nature.

“We report the discovery of a fast radio burst, FRB 150418, and the identification of a fading radio transient lasting 6 days after the event, which we use to identify the host galaxy,” the scientists wrote.

According to the team, the source of FRB 150418 is a mature elliptical galaxy about 6 billion light years away that’s well past its star forming prime.

“This is not what we expected. It might mean that the FRB resulted from, say, two neutron stars colliding rather than anything to do with recent star birth,” said Johnston.

Scientists also made measurements of the FRB to possibly find matter in the Universe that had “gone missing.”

“Astronomers think the contents of the Universe are 70% dark energy, 25% dark matter and 5% ordinary matter. But when they add up the matter they can see in stars, galaxies and hydrogen gas, they still only find half as much ordinary matter as should be there; the rest has not been seen directly and so has been described as missing.”

Using the properties of  FRB 150418, scientists were able to “weight” the normal matter along it’s path and extrapolate those findings into a model of the entire universe. Surprisingly, the results showed no missing normal matter.

“The good news is our observations and the model match – we have found the missing matter,” said lead author Dr. Evan Keane. “It’s the first time a fast radio burst has been used to conduct a cosmological measurement.”

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