Astronomers this week announced that the first confirmed radio bursts from outside our Milky Way galaxy have been detected. A team of astronomers using the Parkes Observatory in Australia have detected four bursts, each originating from billions of light-years from our galaxy. The bursts are quick flashes of radio originating from a single point in the sky, lasting only milliseconds. The furthest burst recorded by the team was 11 billion light-years distant. The new research has been published in the journal Science.
“Short radio bursts are really tricky to identify,” said Sarah Burke Spolaor, a member of the research team based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Our team had to search 11 months of data covering a large sky area to find them.”
Although gamma-ray bursts are routinely observed, radio bursts are more difficult to detect. Spolaor and her colleagues used software to sift through the satellite data to filter out local radio sources, such as cell phones.
Researchers believe the extra-galactic radio bursts can help scientists learn about the nature of galaxies and the universe. Gamma-ray bursts are currently attributed to stars collapsing as they are drawn into black holes. The radio bursts are from a different source, but may also be from large galactic-scale events. Current hypotheses range from colliding neutron stars, to evaporating black holes and supernovae, though researchers have not confirmed any of these.
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL)