8 Billion-Year-Old Radio Burst (News21USA): Approximately eight billion years ago, an astonishing event occurred in a distant galaxy, propelling a tremendously powerful radio wave burst across the universe.
The signal, which reached Earth on June 10th last year, was detected by a radio telescope in Australia, despite its incredibly brief duration of less than a thousandth of a second. This cosmic flash is known as a fast radio burst (FRB), a phenomenon that has perplexed astronomers since its first discovery in 2007.
Astronomers have recently unveiled that this particular FRB, originating from a distant corner of the universe, is more potent and farther away than any previous recorded FRBs, having traveled for eight billion light-years—back to a time when the universe was less than half its present age.
The root cause of FRBs remains a significant enigma in the field of astronomy, with various theories postulated, including the audacious notion that they might be signals from extraterrestrial life. Nevertheless, many scientists currently consider magnetars, which are highly magnetic celestial objects, to be the primary culprits.
Ryan Shannon, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University in Australia, expressed his awe at the fact that the ASKAP radio telescope in Western Australia managed to capture this radio burst last year, describing it as “mind-blowing.”
The specific source of FRBs is still a matter of ongoing research and debate. Thousands of FRBs might be occurring daily, but so far, only about a thousand have been detected, and the origins of only 50 of them have been pinpointed, a crucial element in deciphering their nature.
To trace the origin of the latest radio burst, known as FRB 20220610A, researchers employed the Very Large Telescope in Chile, which determined that the signal emerged from a notably irregular galaxy, potentially involved in mergers with one or two other galaxies—a circumstance that may have given rise to the mysterious magnetar.
Shannon emphasized that this hypothesis is the “best hunch” of the team, considering the mysterious and diverse origins of FRBs, including some from within our own Milky Way galaxy. He concluded that the jury is still out on what precisely causes these phenomena.
In addition to solving the mysteries of FRBs, scientists aim to use them as a tool to shed light on other cosmic enigmas. For instance, they have been utilized to study cosmic matter. When FRBs traverse matter in the universe, they leave behind signatures that provide insights into the nature of the intervening substances.
For the record-breaking FRB, researchers observed signals indicating that the burst had traversed “extra materials” during its journey. To accurately measure the universe’s weight using this information, hundreds more FRBs will likely need to be studied.
With more advanced radio telescopes expected to come into operation, scientists hope to make rapid progress in unraveling these cosmic mysteries. Liam Connor, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, anticipates that future radio telescopes will detect tens of thousands of FRBs, enabling the comprehensive measurement of matter “across cosmic epochs.”