Astronomers are one step closer to understanding the source of mysterious radio waves that have been detected intermittently over the last decade.
Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, have puzzled scientists since they were first discovered. But a group of international researchers, including Shriharsh Tendulkar from McGill University, found that one of the 18 documented FRBs originates from a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light-years away (for comparison’s sake, Earth is eight light-minutes away from the sun and a couple of light-hours away from Pluto).
“This galaxy is absolutely tiny. It’s less than a thousand times the mass of our galaxy, the Milky Way,” Tendulkar told Global News.
Before the dwarf galaxy was determined as the originating point of one FRB, the researchers thought it was from a location closer to the Milky Way. Instead, they found that it was on the “edge of the universe.”
According to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, FRBs are “highly energetic but very short-lived (millisecond) bursts of radio waves.”
This FRB was first observed in 2012 and has repeated its bursts numerous times, allowing researchers to study it.
Using highly advanced telescope systems in New Mexico and Hawaii, the researchers were able to pinpoint the location of the repeating FRB by observing a burst live-in-action which resulted in the latest findings.
So what does this mean?
Tendulkar said this discovery makes them one step closer to understanding what is emitting these radio bursts. In doing so, this may give scientists a better understanding of other astronomical events, the evolution of stars and what other objects exist in the universe.
But more importantly, FRBs provide the opportunity to examine the universe in greater detail.
“Since the radio waves travel through a large fraction of the universe they interact very strongly with the electrons between galaxies and in the galaxies. That’s a very direct probe of matter along the line of sight,” said Tendulkar.
“We can actually probe the universe at this very early age using these FRBs once we understand them better.”
The team believes a neutron star – the dense core of a dead star – could be the source of the repeated radio bursts.
As for the possibility that these FRBs are extraterrestrial beings attempting to communicate with earthlings, Tendulkar is doubtful.
“Aliens have no reason to specifically communicate with radio, they could communicate with something else,” he said. “But again, I’m a bit of a skeptic about extraterrestrial intelligence.”