Researchers pinpoint source of mysterious fast radio burst for the first time

Fast radio bursts are sudden radio flashes that last for about one thousandth of a second, and can outshine the intensity of an entire galaxy.

Fast radio bursts are sudden radio flashes that last for about one thousandth of a second, and can outshine the intensity of an entire galaxy located at the same distance. The radio burst repeats sporadically from one known source, but is difficult to capture. The first fast radio burst was identified by researchers going through the data acquired from the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico.

Scientists initially believed that there was a local source for the fast radio burst, and that the source was located within the Milky Way or close by. A research paper published in Nature shows Cornell university researchers uncovering the source of the fast radio burst. The source is apparently three billion light years away. The paper in Nature is titled "A direct localization of a fast radio burst and its host." The fast radio burst is the brightest radio phenomenon known to man.

Shami Chatterjee, Cornell senior research associate in astronomy and lead author in the paper said "These radio flashes must have enormous amounts of energy to be visible from over 3 billion light-years away. There’s a patch of the sky from which we’re getting this signal – and the patch of the sky is arc minutes in diameter. In that patch are hundreds of sources. Lots of stars, lots of galaxies, lots of stuff."

The fast radio burst originates from within the constellation of Auriga. The patch in the sky from where the signal originates is a very busy portion of the sky, and the Arecibo telescope does not have the necessary resolution to isolate a source. Information from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in Mexico, NASA's Chandra X-ray satellite, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile and the Gemini optical telescope in Hawaii were used to identify the source. Other telescopes from around the world were used to plot the light spectrum, which had doppler shifted on its long journey.

While the location of the source has been identified, its nature is still not known. The Gemini Telescope managed to directly image the object. Chatterjee says, "With the Gemini telescope, this optical blob looks like a faint, faint, faint galaxy – and this faint, fuzzy blob corresponds with, smack onto, the radio source." The next step is identifying what the source is. Speculations include a magnetar inside the gas shell remains of a supernova, a magnetar inside a nebula formed by a pulsar, or the active core of a dwarf galaxy.

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