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Fast radio bursts not detected at certain radio wavelengths

In observations by two different radio telescopes operating at different radio wavelengths but looking at the same part of the sky, astronomers have found that an observed fast radio burst was not detected by one of those telescopes.

The Curtin University-led Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescopes were searching the sky for fast radio bursts, which are exceptionally bright flashes of energy coming from deep space. These extreme events last for only a millisecond but are so bright that many astronomers initially dismissed the first recorded fast radio burst as an observational error.

In research published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, astronomers describe how ASKAP detected several extremely bright fast radio bursts, but the MWA—which scans the sky at lower frequencies—did not see anything, even though it was pointed at the same area of sky at the same time.

Lead author Dr Marcin Sokolowski, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said the fact that the fast radio bursts were not observed at lower frequencies was highly significant. “When ASKAP sees these extremely bright events and the MWA doesn’t, that tells us something really unexpected is going on; either fast radio burst sources don’t emit at low frequencies, or the signals are blocked on their way to Earth,” Dr Sokolowski said.

If blocked at these lower frequencies, this tells theorists something about the environment where the burst occurred. If instead the burst does not emit in those lower frequencies, it tells them something about the burst itself.

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