Key takeaways

  • Astronomers detected the most distant and intense fast radio burst (FRB) ever seen, which traveled for 8 billion years before reaching Earth.
  • The FRB, lasting less than a millisecond, was captured by an Australian radio telescope in June 2022. It released more energy in that brief moment than the sun produces in 30 years.
  • Scientists still don’t know the exact cause of FRBs, but they suspect the bursts may come from highly magnetic neutron stars called magnetars, rather than alien communications.
  • Using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder and Chile’s Very Large Telescope, researchers traced the burst to a group of merging galaxies forming new stars.
  • Studying FRBs helps astronomers learn more about the universe’s structure and detect missing matter between galaxies, potentially solving long-standing cosmic mysteries.

For 8 billion years, a burst of radio waves with more energy than the sun generates in three decades traveled across the universe before reaching Earth.

Fortunately, scientists using an Australian radio telescope were able to catch the elusive signal, which lasted less than one thousandth of a second in June 2022.

Astronomers have been researching fast radio bursts, or FRBs, from all throughout the cosmos since 2007, when the first millisecond-long burst was detected. While more of these cosmic flashes have been discovered since then, experts decided in a paper published in the journal Science that this one was the most distant and intense ever seen.

“While we still don’t know what causes these massive bursts of energy, the paper confirms that fast radio bursts are common events in the cosmos,” said study co-author Ryan Shannon, an astronomer at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. “We will be able to use them to detect matter between galaxies, and better understand the structure of the universe.”

Astronomers are unable to explain why rapid radio bursts occur

Even 16 years after the first rapid radio burst was found, scientists still don’t know exactly what caused the anomaly.

It is tempting to speculate that the radio waves are from extraterrestrials seeking to connect with Earthlings, but scientists believe that faraway dead stars known as magnetars are more likely to be the source. With their incredibly high magnetic fields, neutron stars may produce massive bursts of energy, as scientists have discovered.

These quick radio bursts are notoriously difficult to detect since they stay only a few milliseconds before fading. However, radio telescopes have assisted astronomers in intercepting cosmic bursts, such as the one seen in June. FRB 20220610A was discovered to have emitted as much energy as the sun does in 30 years.

“That is enough power to microwave a bowl of popcorn about two times the size of the sun,” Shannon told New Scientist.

Shannon and his colleagues were able to collect evidence of the radio explosion with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio telescope. The researchers used Chile’s Very Large Telescope to pinpoint the source of the radiation burst.

These studies indicated that the radio burst was most likely caused by a small group of merging galaxies producing new stars.

Studying radio bursts may help understand the cosmos

Though not to scale, an artist’s impression illustrates the path of the fast radio burst from the distant galaxy where it originated all the way to Earth. It’s so far away it took 8 billion years for its light to reach Earth, making it the most distant FRB found to date.

Astronomers have identified the sources of roughly 50 rapid radio bursts to yet, but the study’s authors believe that over 1,000 more are still to be discovered, some at much larger distances.

According to the study team, the Australian radio telescope has discovered approximately half of all rapid radio bursts and is still the finest tool accessible to astronomers today. However, the study’s authors expressed hope that future more powerful radio telescopes, such as those being built in Western Australia and South Africa, may allow astronomers to detect even older and more distant cosmic flashes.

Researchers believe that understanding and researching these radioactive bursts would help scientists better comprehend the cosmos and detect missing stuff between galaxies.

“If we count up the amount of normal matter in the universe — the atoms that we are all made of — we find that more than half of what should be there today is missing,” Shannon stated. “We think that the missing matter is hiding in the space between galaxies, but it may just be so hot and diffuse that it’s impossible to see using normal techniques.”

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments