Strange short-duration bursts of radio waves — some seemingly originating from regions that are over 11 billion light years away — have been detected by researchers over the past couple of years, but their origins have remained somewhat unclear.
But now, new research has begun to shed some light on these strange radio waves — terrestrial sources have been definitively ruled out, and there is good evidence that they are originating from extreme astrophysical events involving relativistic objects such as neutron stars, black holes, or magnetars.
Lead researcher, Dan Thornton, a PhD student at England’s University of Manchester and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said: “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. 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.”
Max-Planck Institute Director and Manchester professor, Michael Kramer, continued: “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. But if we could view the sky with ‘radio eyes’ there would be flashes going off all over the sky every day.”
The research team utilized the CSIRO Parkes 64metre radio telescope in Australia for the new work.
Study co-author Professor Matthew Bailes, of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, speculates that the origin of these explosive radio bursts may be magnetic neutron stars, also known as ‘magnetars’, stating: “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.”
The researchers think that their work will provide a new means of investigating the properties of space/time — by observing the space between the Earth and where the bursts originated.
Dr Ben Stappers, from Manchester’s School of Physics and Astronomy, stated: “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. 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.”
The new research was just published in the journal Science.