Aussie scientists find origin of intergalactic sounds from 3.6b light years away
Australian scientists have pinpointed, in a world-first, the precise location of a mysterious burst of radio waves that originated in another galaxy.
CSIRO researchers discovered the pulse of energy using a radio telescope in Western Australia and two other telescopes on two continents.
The combination of hi-tech equipment enabled the scientists to determine the unidentified bursts had come from a Milky Way-sized galaxy 3.6 billion light years away from Earth.
The question now – especially for those who believe in the possibility of alien life - is how the waves are being produced, and by what.
“This is the big breakthrough that the field has been waiting for since astronomers discovered fast radio bursts in 2007,” CSIRO lead author Dr Keith Bannister said in a statement today.
"If we were to stand on the Moon and look down at the Earth with this precision, we would be able to tell not only which city the burst came from, but which postcode – and even which city block.”
Since 2007, 85 bursts of radio waves have been detected coming across the universe – including “repeaters” that suggest multiple pulses coming from the same location.
Despite that, scientists have never been able to geo-locate the origins of radio wave bursts, which last less than a millisecond.
The CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), which is located in Murchison north-east of Geraldton in the WA outback, pinpointed the strange sound – known as FRB 180924 – to a galaxy that has only been named as DES J214425.25−405400.81.
Chile’s Very Large Telescope and Gemini South telescope, as well as Hawaii’s Keck telescope, were then used by the researchers to map and measure the distance the radio wave had travelled.
“It comes from a massive galaxy that is forming relatively few stars,” Dr Adam Deller, from the Swinburne University of Technology, said in a statement.
“This suggests that fast radio bursts can be produced in a variety of environments, or that the seemingly one-off bursts detected so far by ASKAP are generated by a different mechanism to the repeater.”
The exact cause or meaning of the radio waves are yet to be determined, however scientists have said that being able to pinpoint their geo-location in the universe is a major step towards figuring that out.
“These bursts are altered by the matter they encounter in space,” Dr Jean-Pierre Macquart from Curtin University said in a statement.
“Now we can pinpoint where they come from, we can use them to measure the amount of matter in intergalactic space.”
The scientists involved in the discovery hope that could mean they will be able to understand what may lie in galaxies as far away as the one emitting the radio waves.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019