A Counterpart for Fast Radio BurstsIt’s a mysterious case worthy of Sherlock H…

A Counterpart for Fast Radio Bursts

It’s a mysterious case worthy of Sherlock Holmes: seemingly random bursts of radio emission generated from somewhere outside the Milky Way, with no obvious source. These emissions, known as Fast Radio Bursts (FRB), have plagued astronomers over the last several years. They were initially discovered in data archives of the Parkes radio telescope in Australia, popping up as relatively strong radio bursts that lasted only 5 milliseconds. The usual radio bursts we detect are usually repeating, emanating from rapidly spinning neutron stars known as pulsars. This radio signal was all alone.

Even stranger, the signal was dispersed, which means the higher frequency portion of the burst was detected before the lower frequencies. Dispersion is a result of the lower frequency signal being slowed preferentially compared to the high frequencies by the electron clouds between us and the source. Measuring the delay between low and high frequency gives us the distance the signal has traveled. This dispersion indicated that the burst must have originated from very far away — at least 1 Gigaparsec distant. That’s a span of over 3 billion light-years!

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