Astronomers pinpoint location of fast radio burst from faint galaxy

Darnell ReidJan 07, 2017

This particular FRB was interesting because the signals broadcasted seemed to be repeated, which narrowed down the possible sources of FRBs.

Understanding the type of galaxy the FRBs came from could provide clues as to what is causing the bursts.

So what cosmic event creates these bursts of radio waves that, in just a fraction of a second, generate more energy than 500 million suns?

That news made headlines past year.

The first fast radio burst (FRB) was first discovered 16 years ago.

It's a long-anticipated discovery that will help shed light on these enigmatic bursts.

The first was heard in 2007 by the Australian Parkes Telescope and only 17 have been detected since.

An artist's impression of the Gemini telescope detecting the signal of a fast radio burst in a distant dwarf galaxy.

"Nine pulses captured with two telescopes - now we have enormous resolution.We've pinpointed a speck, to a 10th of an arcsecond [a unit of angular measurement]. where the burst is coming from", added the astronomer.

Still, much more information was needed to figure out what's causing FRBs, starting with where in the universe they are coming from.

After that, other researchers working with the European VLBI Network, the William E. Gordon Telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and the NSF's Very Long Baseline array, worked together to pull out even more precise data. "And we are the first to see where this thing is happening, in this little galaxy, which I think is a surprise", said Law. Or at least it does for this source. In early 2016, scientists found that a series of FRBs were coming from a single source. The trouble is that the burst doesn't appear to follow the periodic pattern that you would expect for an object that regularly rotates.

A certain region in the sky was the source of this signal.

According to study co-author Sara Burke-Spolaor, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, one possibility is that they are blobs of gas getting hit by powerful jets. Only then could they better speculate what might cause such odd outbreaks.

But it wasn't good enough.

Fast radio bursts were generally thought to be single events that revealed few clues about their locations and sources, but in 2015 an global collaboration of scientists examined data from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico that showed repeating bursts attributed to one specific fast radio burst. That did the trick.

"We have detected dozens of radio bursts with Arecibo, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, and now the Very Large Array and the Effelsberg Telescope in Germany", McLaughlin said. Spectroscopic data from Gemini also enabled the researchers to determine that the dwarf galaxy is more than 3 billion light-years from Earth.

Gemini composite image of the field around FRB 121102.

As per the report from Cees Bassa, an astronomer at Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, the fact that FRB originated from a dwarf galaxy was a bit unexpected.

"And so from that we can infer how far away it is because the universe is expanding and the expansion gets faster as you get further away".

The bursts originate from a dwarf galaxy that emits faint radiation in both radio and visual wavelengths. They are bright flashes found outside the Milky Way. Perhaps the FRB is actually coming from a supermassive black hole or an extraordinarily bright supernova.

But recently, astronomers have come closer to discovering the mysterious origins. One was a persistent source of weaker radio emission which he said they still did not understand. Although the exact relationship between the duo remains unclear, it's likely that they're somehow interacting. These events were characterized by, as their name implies, a rapid, high-intensity burst of radio waves.

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