Cosmic radio bursts provide a pathway to weigh the universe

Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

In an article published in the latest issue of Science, Macquarie University’s Dr. Stuart Ryder and Swinburne University of Technology Associate Professor Ryan Shannon, who led a global team, have released their groundbreaking discovery: the oldest and most distant fast radio burst ever detected. , about eight billion years ago.

This remarkable discovery surpasses their previous record by an astounding 50%. This confirms the idea that fast radio bursts (FRBs) provide a means of measuring elusive intergalactic matter.

The origin of this radio burst has been traced to a cluster of two to three merging galaxies, supporting current theories regarding the origin of fast radio bursts. Furthermore, the study demonstrates that, given current telescope technology, it is only possible to observe and accurately detect fast radio bursts going back about eight billion years.

It was on June 10, 2022 that CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope, located on the land of the Wajari Yamaji people, was instrumental in capturing a fast radio burst. The explosion resulted from a cosmic event that, in a fraction of a second, unleashed an energy output equal to the total emissions of the Sun in 30 years.

„Using ASKAP’s diet, we were able to pinpoint where the outbreak came from,” says Dr. Ryder, first author of the paper. „We then used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to search for the source galaxy and found it to be older and more distant than any other FRB source discovered to date, and likely within a small group of merging galaxies.”

Designated FRB 20220610A, this particular fast radio burst once again underscores the possibility of using data from FRBs to estimate the mass of the Universe. The groundwork for this approach was initially laid by the late Australian astronomer Jean-Pierre 'JP’ Magwart, published in the journal Nature in 2020.

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„JP showed that the more distant the fast radio burst, the more diffuse the gas is released between galaxies,” says Dr Ryder. „This is now called the Macquart relation. Some recent fast radio bursts appear to break this relation. Our measurements confirm that the Macquart relation holds beyond half of the known universe.

About 50 fast radio bursts (FRBs) have been accurately detected so far, almost half of which have been identified using ASKAP. Researchers propose that we have the potential to detect thousands more of these cosmic events across the sky and even further afield.

„Although we still don’t know what causes these massive bursts of energy, the paper confirms that fast radio bursts are common phenomena in the Universe and that they can be used to detect matter between galaxies and better understand the structure of the Universe,” says Associate Professor Shannon.

Currently, ASKAP is the primary radio telescope for detecting and accurately reporting FRBs. The upcoming international SKA telescopes, currently under construction in Western Australia and South Africa, will undoubtedly surpass these capabilities and help astronomers identify even more ancient and distant FRBs.


Caption Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

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