Perth, Australia, Friday 28 June 2019 – An Australian-led international team of astronomers has determined the precise location of a powerful one-off burst of cosmic radio waves. The discovery was made with CSIRO’s new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope in Western Australia. The galaxy from which the burst originated was then imaged by three of the world’s largest optical telescopes – Keck, Gemini South and ESO’s Very Large Telescope.
The results were announced this week by PhD student Wael Farah (Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia) at the annual meeting of the European Astronomical Society (EWASS2019) in Lyon, France, and are published in the journal Science.
Fast radio bursts last less than a millisecond, making it difficult to accurately determine where they have come from. The team developed new technology to freeze and save ASKAP data less than a second after a burst arrives at the telescope. This technology was used to pinpoint the location of FRB 180924 to its home galaxy (DES J214425.25−405400.81). The team made a high-resolution map showing that the burst originated in the outskirts of a Milky Way-sized galaxy about four billion light-years away. To find out more about the home galaxy, the team imaged it with the European Southern Observatory’s 8-m Very Large Telescope in Chile and measured its distance with the 10-m Keck telescope in Hawai’i and the 8-m Gemini South telescope in Chile.
The cause of fast radio bursts remains unknown but the ability to determine their exact location is a big leap towards solving this mystery. Evan Keane, SKA Project Scientist and winner of the MERAC Prize for Observational Astrophysics this week for his groundbreaking work on FRBs, has been closely involved in the field. “In order to fully exploit the potential of FRBs as cosmological probes, it’s essential to be able to localise them this precisely, and ASKAP has done just that for the first time. It’s an amazing step for FRB science. The ultimate goal will be to go deeper in redshift and localise thousands of FRBs, this is where SKA will come in.” he said.