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ASKAP telescope impresses with early discovery of its first Fast Radio Burst

Tuesday 23 May 2017, Sydney – The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope has found its first ‘fast radio burst’ from space after less than four days of searching, indicating the full potential of the precursor telescope and the future SKA.


The Australian SKA Pathfinder, ASKAP, located at the MRO in Western Australia. Credit: CSIRO

The discovery of the new burst, FRB170107, was made by CSIRO’s Dr Keith Bannister and his colleagues from CSIRO, Curtin University and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) while using just eight of the telescope’s 36 dishes. The discovery is the culmination of a decade of science and engineering development by CSIRO and Curtin University.

“We can expect to find one every two days when we use 12 dishes, our standard number at present,” Dr Bannister said.

‘Fast radio bursts’ or FRBs are short, sharp spikes of radio waves lasting a few milliseconds. They appear to come from powerful events billions of light-years away but their cause is still a mystery. The first was discovered in 2007 and only two dozen have been found since, one of which was discovered back in 2016 by an international team of scientists led by SKA project scientist, Dr Evan Keane, using CSIRO’s 64-m Parkes radio telescope.

“The Parkes radio telescope is a state-of-the-art facility when it comes to discovering FRB’s, however, to cover the area of sky which ASKAP has achieved, it would take over 1000 days” explains Dr Keane. “This is highly impressive from the ASKAP team and shows the potential not only of ASKAP but of the future SKA telescope once operational.”

The new burst was found as part of a research project called CRAFT (Commensal Real-time ASKAP Fast Transients survey), which is led jointly by Dr Bannister and Dr Jean-Pierre Macquart from the Curtin University node of ICRAR.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the FRB detection was a sign of the full potential of ASKAP.

“Radio astronomy has a long history of innovation in high-speed communications, and this unique capability is embedded into ASKAP – from the receiver to the signal processing – making it a uniquely powerful instrument for astronomy,” Dr Marshall said.

ASKAP is one of the precursor telescopes to the SKA. The 36 antennas which form ASKAP are already installed at the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO) site in Western Australia.

Read the full press release from CSIRO here.