Astronomers have picked up a mysterious and powerful signal from the edge of the Leo constellation.
What makes the discovery so impressive is that at the time, the researchers were using just eight of the 36 dishes that make up the telescope.
Originating from billions of light years away researchers are still unclear as to what caused the signal, but it’s powerful. The strange signal was discovered only four days after the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) started its search.
The discovery of the latest FRB was made by CSIRO’s Dr Keith Bannister and a number of other researchers from CSIRO, Curtin University and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.
‘Fast radio bursts’ or FRBs are short, extremely powerful radio waves that can last for only a few milliseconds. FRBs were discovered for the first time in 2007 and they appear temporarily and randomly, making them not only hard to find, but also hard to study.
The new ASKAP telescope be used either to look at one point of the sky, or be pointed in different directions. This time, astronomers decided to use only 8 dishes. “We turned the telescope into the Sauron of space – the all-seeing eye,” Dr Bannister said, referring to the dark overlord in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. The team discovered almost immediately a huge radio burst.
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Registered as FRB170107, the burst came from the edge of the constellation Leo and is believed to have traveled through space for six billion years before reaching Earth at the speed of light.
The origin and nature of the signal remain unknown for the moment. Experts have long debated the nature of FRBs and theories on their origin have ranged from enormous interstellar events such as pulsars to huge alien megastructures such as spacecraft travelling faster than light.
Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have suggested some FRBs could be solar-powered transmitters using sunlight cast on an area twice the size of Earth. Such highly advanced extraterrestrial technology could generate enough energy to be ‘seen’ by civilizations living very far way, like us, humans for example.
Researchers say this FRB that was picked up the edge of the Leo constellation had a particular brightness and apparent distance, suggesting there was an enormous amount of energy involved.