For the first time ever, scientists have detected the source of a fast radio burst (FRB) thanks to the Australia Telescope Compact Array. Since 2007, astronomers have detected these short blasts of radio waves from outer space, each lasting just a few milliseconds, but have been unable to locate any of their origins until now.
The pulse in question originates from a galaxy six billion light years away from ours, and scientists believe that it likely resulted from the collision of two neutron stars. The discovery is the "measurement the field has been waiting for" according to astronomer Kiyoshi Masui, who believes that locating the source of FRBs and calculating the distance to their source will allow scientists to use the signals to reveals the mysteries of the universe's evolution.
The FRB analyzed in the study was detected in April of 2015 and lasted just one millisecond, making it one of the shortest detected as of yet. However, this brief interval created an afterglow in the same area it originated in, which was enough for scientists to narrow down the search field to a solo elliptical galaxy that they believe is the most likely source of the burst.
Due to the age of the source galaxy, the team believes that the burst likely came from the collision of two neutron stars that orbited each until their final moments when they clashed. Furthermore, the short time interval is consistent with this hypothesis as larger objects - such as white dwarfs or supernovae - would have led to a longer burst.
"The field is about to transition from being kind of a fringe, astrophysical-curiosity freak show to potentially a mainstream research area," Duncan Lorimer, the astronomer who discovered the first FRB back in 2007, said in a press release. "We'll have the potential to soon be overwhelmed by these things," he said.
The findings were published in the Feb. 24 issue of Nature.