For the first time ever, a short burst of radio waves tearing through space has been caught in real time. Scientists believe that this could help them work out where these mysterious comic bursts come from.
Until now, scientists have only known such kind of radio bursts from historical data. However, CSIRO’s 64-m Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia has caught a fast radio burst for the first time.
Emily Petroff, a Ph.D. candidate and astrophysicist at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and who caught the radio waves said, “These bursts were generally discovered weeks or months or even more than a decade after they happened! We’re the first to catch one in real time.”
The scientists have added the burst was only radio – no optical, infrared, and ultraviolet or X-ray follow up, which rules out some possible candidates, like long gamma-ray bursts and nearby supernova.
Additionally, the real-time detection of the burst revealed its polarization. It is believed that electromagnetic waves can be linear or circular. However, the radio burst that was caught by Petroff was more than 20% circularly polarized. This means that there could be magnetic fields close to the source of the newly observed radio burst.
Daniele Malesani, astrophysicist at the Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, said, “The theories are now that the radio wave burst might be linked to a very compact type of object – such as neutron stars or black holes and the bursts could be connected to collisions or ‘star quakes’. Now we know more about what we should be looking for.”
The scientists have set their instruments around the location from which the radio burst came in. They will now wait for another radio burst to come from it.
“We’ve set the trap. Now we just have to wait for another burst to fall into it,” added Petroff.
The findings were published in the Royal Astronomical Society journal.