Bursts Of Cosmic Radio Waves May Be From The Beginning Of The Universe
July 5, 2013

Mysterious Bursts Of Cosmic Radio Waves May Have Ancient Origins

[ Watch the Video: A Population of Fast Radio Bursts at Cosmological Distances ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Astronomers writing in the journal Science say they recently discovered mysterious bursts of radio waves originating from billions of light-years away.

The scientists have already ruled out the possibility the bursts came from terrestrial sources. Based on the brightness and distance of the four radio waves, the researchers conclude they come from a cosmological time when the universe was just half its current age.

The bursts of energy indicate the waves come from an extreme astrophysical event involving objects like neutron stars or black holes. Lead author of the study Dan Thornton, a PhD student at England's University of Manchester and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, said the findings point to some extreme events involving large amounts of mass or energy as the source of the radio bursts.

"A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our galaxy about six years ago but no one was certain what it was or even if it was real, so we have spent the last four years searching for more of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts," Thornton said. "This paper describes four more bursts, removing any doubt that they are real. The radio bursts last for just a few milliseconds and the furthest one that we detected was 11 billion light-years away."

According to the findings, there should be one of these signals going off every 10 seconds.

"The bursts last only a tenth of the blink of an eye. With current telescopes we need to be lucky to look at the right spot at the right time," said Max-Planck Institute Director and Manchester's Professor Michael Kramer. "But if we could view the sky with 'radio eyes' there would be flashes going off all over the sky every day."

The team used the CSIRO Parkes 64-meter radio telescope in Australia to obtain their results. They believe the origin of these explosive bursts may be from magnetic neutron stars, known as magnetars.

"Magnetars can give off more energy in a millisecond than our Sun does in 300,000 years and are a leading candidate for the burst," said co-author Professor Matthew Bailes of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

The team said their results will provide a way of finding out more about the properties of space between the Earth and where the bursts took place.

"We are still not sure about what makes up the space between galaxies, so we will be able to use these radio bursts like probes in order to understand more about some of the missing matter in the universe," said co-author Dr. Ben Stappers from Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy. "We are now starting to use Parkes and other telescopes, like the Lovell Telescope of the University of Manchester, to look for these bursts in real time."