News National WA astronomers make history intercepting deep-space radio waves

WA astronomers make history intercepting deep-space radio waves

Gazing were no human could ever look, this array of radio telescopes 300km north-east of Geraldton has astronomers abuzz. Photo: CSIRO
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Researchers in Western Australia have detected 20 mysterious and immensely powerful radio signals, known as “fast radio bursts” – nearly double the number  detected worldwide since they were discovered in 2007.

The team also found the closest and brightest fast radio bursts ever detected, according to findings published in science journal Nature on Thursday.

“Using the new technology of the Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, we’ve also proved that fast radio bursts are coming from the other side of the universe rather than from our own galactic neighbourhood,” said lead author Ryan Shannon from Swinburne University of Technology.

A fast radio burst is a fierce spike of energy that comes from outside our galaxy and lasts just milliseconds.

Scientists do not know what causes these mysterious radio waves or which galaxies they come from but say they must involve incredible energy, equivalent to the amount released by the sun over 80 years.

Co-author Jean-Pierre Macquart from Curtin University said the bursts travel for billions of years and occasionally pass through clouds of gas.

“Each time this happens, the different wavelengths that make up a burst are slowed by different amounts,” he said.

“Eventually, the burst reaches Earth with its spread of wavelengths arriving at the telescope at slightly different times, like swimmers at a finish line,” he added.

“Timing the arrival of the different wavelengths tells us how much material the burst has travelled through on its journey.”

The radio telescope array, still only half complete, will among the world’s most powerful device for eavesdropping on the universe when construction is complete.