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Mysterious fast radio bursts said to be coming from outer space


For over a decade now fast radio bursts (FRBs) have continued to puzzle astronomers and while we still know very little about these dazzling celestial phenomena, astronomers believe that these mysterious radio signals are coming from outer space.

Manisha Caleb, a PhD candidate at Australian National University, Swinburne University of Technology and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), and colleagues detected three of these fast radio bursts (FRBs) with the Molonglo radio telescope 40 km from Canberra. Based on their analysis they claim that these FRBs are coming from outer space.

FRBs were first discovered over a decade ago by astronomers at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope. These mysterious radio signals are millisecond-duration intense pulses of radio light that appear to be coming from vast distances. They are about a billion times more luminous than anything we have ever seen in our own Milky Way galaxy.

There have been multiple theories that claim to offer explanation about these FRBs, one of the potential explanation is that the FRBs weren’t really coming from outer space, but were some form of local interference tricking astronomers into searching for new theories of their ‘impossible’ radio energy and the most bizarre explanation stating that these FRBs are of alien origin.

The Molonglo telescope has a huge collecting area (18,000 square metres) and a large field of view (eight square degrees on the sky), which makes it excellent for hunting for fast radio bursts. It is the unique architecture of the telescope that placed it at a minimum distance to the FRBs due to its enormous focal length. Ms. Caleb developed a software to sift through the 1,000 terabytes (TB) of data produced each day. Her work paid off with the three new FRB discoveries.

“Figuring out where the bursts come from is the key to understanding what makes them. Only one burst has been linked to a specific galaxy,” Ms. Caleb says. “We expect Molonglo will do this for many more bursts.”