They’re super spurts of energy. In one millisecond, fast radio bursts (FRBs) can emit as much energy as the sun does in 10,000 years. Following their discovery at the turn of the 21st century, scientists detected only 16 FRBs, their origins a mystery.
But a team of scientists, using CSIRO radio telescopes in Australia and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru telescope in Hawaii, have pinpointed the location of an FRB that was detected last year. Their research was published today in Nature.
The FRB, named FRB 150418, was first detected by CSIRO’s 64-m Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales on April 18, 2015. In the hours following the detection, Swineburne Univ. of Technology PhD student Shivani Bhandari pointed the Australia Telescope Compact Array’s six 22-m dishes towards the burst’s direction. They studied the FRB’s radio afterglow for six days before it disappeared.
In Hawaii, the 8.2-m optical Subaru telescope identified an elliptical galaxy 6 billion light-years away as the FRB’s source of origin. The distance was gleaned from the galaxy’s redshift measurement, which measures the speed at which it is moving away due to the universe’s accelerated expansion, according to Swineburne Univ. of Technology.
Further, the team used the FRB to measure the “weight” of the universe, or the amount of ordinary matter. Astronomers have hypothesized that the universe is comprised of 70 percent dark energy, 25 percent dark matter, and five percent ordinary matter, according to CSIRO.
“The good news is our observations and the model match—we have found the missing matter,” said lead author Evan Keane in a statement. “It’s the first time a (FRB) has been used to conduct a cosmological measurement.”
While the research team honed in on the source of the FRB, the cause still remains a mystery. However, the researchers postulate that it may have resulted from the collision of two neutron stars.