Astronomers have been intercepting signals coming from deep space for quite some time now. Called Fast Radio Bursts or FRBs, the strange signals are one of astronomy’s greatest mysteries.
No one knows exactly what causes them, what they are, and why they even exist.
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are elusive signals that last only a few milliseconds and originate billions of light-years away. Despite the fact that we have now intercepted quite a few of these signals, scientists still do not know for sure what causes them.
They also generate intense pulses of energy, enough to match the amount of energy released by the Sun over the course of 80 years.
Now, A study where scientists used two synchronized Australian radio telescopes has drawn attention to the fact that mysterious FRB’s are not detected at low frequencies.
The research, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, used the combined use of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) to search in the sky for these exceptionally bright energy shots (Fast Radio Burst in English) that come from space deep, but whose origin is unknown.
Astronomers describe how ASKAP detected several extremely bright and fast radio bursts, but the MWA, which scans the sky at lower frequencies, saw nothing, even though it was aimed at the same area of the sky at the same time.
The lead author, Marcin Sokolowski, of the Curtin University and member of the International Radio Astronomy Research Center (ICRAR), said that the fact that Fast Radio Bursts were not observed at lower frequencies was very significant.
“When ASKAP sees these extremely bright events and the MWA doesn’t, that tells us something really unexpected is going on; either fast radio burst sources don’t emit at low frequencies, or the signals are blocked on their way to Earth,” Dr. Sokolowski said.
Both telescopes could capture the same view of the sky because the two telescopes are located side by side in the desert of the remote Murchison region of Western Australia.
“Fast radio bursts are unpredictable, so to catch them when both telescopes are looking in the same direction isn’t easy,” Study co-author Dr. Ramesh Bhat said.
“It took many months of ASKAP and the MWA co-tracking the same area of sky, ensuring the best overlap of their views possible, to give us the chance at catching some of these enigmatic bursts.”
ICRAR-Curtin astronomer Dr. Jean-Pierre Macquart, also a co-author of the research, said fast radio bursts have perplexed astronomers ever since the first burst was discovered in 2007.
“It’s really thrilling to have a clue about the origins of these incredible bursts of energy from outside our galaxy,” Dr. Macquart said.
“The MWA adds an important piece of the puzzle and it was only made possible with this ‘technological tango’ between the two telescopes.”
“It’s an exciting development because it unites the two teams and it brings home the advantage of having the two telescopes at the same site.”
“Future coordination between the teams will also benefit other areas of astronomy, as complementary views from the two telescopes can provide a more complete picture of a situation.”