Date: October 10, 2018
By: Mike Wall
A huge haul of newfound fast radio bursts (FRBs) may help astronomers finally start to get a handle on these mysterious and powerful blasts from deep space.A new study reports the detection of 19 previously undiscovered FRBs, including the closest one to Earth and the brightest one ever seen. The results boost the total tally significantly; just three dozen or so FRBs had been known previously, with the first detection coming in 2007.
FRBs are brief (millisecond-long) but intense emissions of radio light, which can pack as much energy as our own sun produces over the course of nearly a century. Their source is the topic of much discussion and debate. For example, some researchers have suggested that FRBs could be generated by advanced alien civilizations, though most astronomers favor natural explanations, such as fast-spinning neutron stars. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens]
The new study is led by Ryan Shannon, of the Swinburne University of Technologyin Australia. Since the beginning of 2017, he and his team have been searching the skies for FRBs using the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), a network of 36 radio dishes in Western Australia.
The systematic hunt has already turned up 20 FRBs, the researchers report in the new paper, which was published online today (Oct. 10) in the journal Nature. (One of the bursts they spotted was reported previously in a different paper, so the count of newfound FRBs technically stands at 19.)
The team’s success rate can be traced to two factors, said study co-author Keith Bannister of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, which designed and engineered ASKAP.
“The telescope has a whopping field of view of 30 square degrees, 100 times larger than the full moon,” Bannister said in a statement.
“And, by using the telescope’s dish antennas in a radical way, with each pointing at a different part of the sky, we observed 240 square degrees all at once — about 1,000 times the area of the full moon,” he added.”ASKAP is astoundingly good for this work.”
|An artist’s illustration of an ASKAP radio dish detecting a fast radio burst (FRB). Scientists don’t know what causes FRBs, but it must involve incredible energy — equivalent to the amount released by the sun in 80 years.
Credit: OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology
None of the newly detected FRBs was seen to flash more than once over the study period, even though the team observed FRB-harboring fields repeatedly and spent more than 12,000 hours following up FRB finds, Shannon said.
Indeed, to date, just one “repeater” has been confirmed — a source called FRB 121102, which has fired off bursts multiple times since its 2012 discovery, including a barrage of at least 93 over the course of a single day in August 2017.
Continue reading at: Space.com