Fast radio burst pinpointed to distant galaxy

Fast radio burst pinpointed to distant galaxy
Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Credit: Caltech/OVRO/Gregg Hallinan

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are among the most enigmatic and powerful events in the cosmos. Around 80 of these events—intensely bright millisecond-long bursts of radio waves coming from beyond our galaxy—have been witnessed so far, but their causes remain unknown.

In a rare feat, researchers at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) have now caught a new burst, called FRB 190523, and, together with the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, have pinpointed its origins to a galaxy 7.9 billion light-years away. Identifying the from which these radio bursts erupt is a critical step toward solving the mystery of what triggers them.

A paper about the discovery appears online July 2 in Nature.

Before this new discovery, only one other burst, called FRB 121102, had been localized to a host galaxy. FRB 121102 was reported in 2014 and then later, in 2017, was pinpointed to a galaxy lying 3 billion light-years away. Recently, a second localized FRB was announced on June 27, 2019. Called FRB 180924, this burst was discovered by a team using the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder and traced to a galaxy about 4 billion light-years away.

FRB 121102 was easiest to find because it continues to burst every few weeks. Most FRBs, however—including the Australian and OVRO finds—just go off once, making the job of finding their host galaxies harder.

"Finding the locations of the one-off FRBs is challenging because it requires a radio telescope that can both discover these extremely short events and locate them with the resolving power of a mile-wide radio dish," says Vikram Ravi, a new assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech who works with the at OVRO, which is situated east of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.

"At OVRO, we built a new array of ten 4.5-meter dishes that collectively act like a mile-wide dish to cover an area on the sky the size of 150 full moons," he says. "To do this, a powerful digital system ingests and processes an amount of data equivalent to a DVD every second."

The new OVRO instrument is called the Deep Synoptic Array-10, with the "10" referring to the number of dishes. This array serves as a stepping stone for the planned Deep Synoptic Array (DSA), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which, when completed by 2021, will ultimately consist of 110 radio dishes.

Fast radio burst pinpointed to distant galaxy
The Deep Synoptic Array ten-antenna prototype (DSA-10) searches for fast radio bursts within a sky-area the size of 150 full moons (left). Within this area, the DSA-10 can locate these bursts with immense resolving power, isolating them to regions containing just one galaxy (middle). This feat was achieved for the fast radio burst called FRB 190523, detected by DSA-10 on May 23, 2019. The right panel shows the time profile of the burst above its radio spectrum. Credit: Caltech/OVRO/V. Ravi

"The DSA is expected to discover and localize more than 100 FRBs per year," says Richard Barvainis, program director at the NSF for the Mid-Scale Innovations Program, which is funding the construction of the DSA. "Astronomers have been chasing FRBs for a decade now, and we're finally drawing a bead on them with new instruments like DSA-10 and, eventually, the full DSA. Now we have a chance of figuring out just what these exotic objects might be."

The new observations show that the host galaxy for FRB 190523 is similar to our Milky Way. This is a surprise because the previously located FRB 121102 originates from a dwarf galaxy that is forming stars more than a hundred times faster than the Milky Way.

"This finding tells us that every galaxy, even a run-of-the-mill galaxy like our Milky Way, can generate an FRB," says Ravi.

The discovery also suggests that a leading theory for what causes FRBs—the eruption of plasma from young, highly magnetic neutron stars, or magnetars—may need to be rethought.

"The theory that FRBs come from magnetars was developed in part because the earlier FRB 121102 came from an active star-forming environment, where young magnetars can be formed in the supernovae of massive stars," says Ravi. "But the host galaxy of FRB 190523 is more mellow in comparison. "

Ultimately, to solve the mystery of FRBs, astronomers hope to uncover more examples of their host galaxies.

"With the full Deep Synoptic Array, we are going to find and localize FRBs every few days," says Gregg Hallinan, the director of OVRO and a professor of astronomy at Caltech. "This is an exciting time for FRB discoveries."

The researchers also say that FRBs can be used to study the amount and distribution of matter in our universe, which will tell us more about the environments in which galaxies form and evolve. As radio waves from FRBs head toward Earth, intervening matter causes some of the wavelengths to travel faster than others; the wavelengths become dispersed in the same way that a prism spreads apart light into a rainbow. The amount of dispersion tells astronomers exactly how much matter there is between the FRB sources and Earth.

"Most matter in the universe is diffuse, hot, and outside of galaxies," says Ravi. "This state of matter, although not 'dark,' is difficult to observe directly. However, its effects are clearly imprinted on every FRB, including the one we detected at such a great distance."


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More information: V. Ravi et al. A fast radio burst localized to a massive galaxy, Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1389-7
Journal information: Nature

Citation: Fast radio burst pinpointed to distant galaxy (2019, July 2) retrieved 19 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-fast-radio-distant-galaxy.html
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Jul 02, 2019
This is assuredly a very dumb question. If a somthing were to be fully impacted by these FRBs bursts at say 5 light years or less would they create any kind of damage to life or mater?

Jul 02, 2019
Very likely something that could be detected more than 3 billion light-years away would most assuredly affect our solar system is a profoundly adverse manner. The amount of energy we are talking about is on the order of millions of times the yearly output of the sun being emitted in a fraction of a second.

Jul 02, 2019
Very likely something that could be detected more than 3 billion light-years away would most assuredly affect our solar system is a profoundly adverse manner. The amount of energy we are talking about is on the order of millions of times the yearly output of the sun being emitted in a fraction of a second.


I guess what I am really getting at is could these FRBs bursts be weapon discharges.? (not at us and not at this distance)

Jul 02, 2019
The extreme release of energy in astrophysical objects is accompanied by outflows, sometimes superluminal. It is important that these phenomena are observed on the scales from stars to galaxies, setting off a unity of explosive processes. But the nature of the central engines remains unclear. In our model all these phenomena have a common nature and the central engines are elastons.
https://www.acade...nization

Jul 02, 2019
If there's anybody using this for weapons, not only are they willing to wait a couple hundred thousand years for effects, but they're as far beyond us as we are beyond bluebottle flies.

Jul 02, 2019
There are wars going on between certain very long-lived intelligent life forms who use technology and FRBs as the means to kill one another in planetary-wide and galactic conflagrations. It is inevitable when one intelligent faction discovers the existence of another equally intelligent faction of the same or different species who exist somewhere in the Cosmos. It is the awareness that others exist who may be planning a genocidal event, even if untrue.
One only has to look upon the human race and its wars and rumours of wars to understand how species, whether intelligent or not, will try to prevent another from a power grab to control and command.
If happens in many worlds where intelligent life exists - not only on Earth. That's the nature of the beast.
Mankind is such a beast, which is why humans are shunned by all those in the Cosmos who fear men.

Jul 03, 2019
This is assuredly a very dumb question. If a something were to be fully impacted by these FRBs bursts at say 5 light years or less would they create any kind of damage to life or mater?

FRBs originating from billions of light years away apparently reach Earth with roughly the strength a signal of a mobile phone from the Moon would reach Earth. So, an FRB originating for instance from 5 billion years away would be roughly one billion times stronger (and much more energetic, i.e. with a much shorter wavelength) if it originated from 5 light years away, or 1 billion mobile phone signals focused in one beam.

Due to the Doppler effect though it would be a microwave beam rather than a radio wave one. You can rest assured that this beam would fry everything in its path, and if it hit Earth it would turn into a huge microwave oven for a few milliseconds. I have no idea if that would be enough to kill all of us though or just those on the side of Earth that was hit.

Jul 03, 2019
Very likely something that could be detected more than 3 billion light-years away would most assuredly affect our solar system is a profoundly adverse manner. The amount of energy we are talking about is on the order of millions of times the yearly output of the sun being emitted in a fraction of a second.


I guess what I am really getting at is could these FRBs bursts be weapon discharges.? (not at us and not at this distance)

Radio wave weapons would not work but at these distances the FRBs originate as microwaves, and those would work. At even longer distances (beyond 8 billion light years or so) the FRBs might start as far infrared beams, and these would be *even* better. However a civilization would need to be at a Kardashev Type III level (mastery of an entire galaxy) to be able to discharge so immensely powerful weapons. Such a civilization would be intensely active and astronomers see no such activity in the galaxies the FRBs come from.

Jul 03, 2019
A reasonable question might be: are these events exclusively at cosmological distances, implying a unique process at work in the past, or, are they simply very, very, rare, in which case you would expect to get a sample biased for cosmological distances?

Jul 03, 2019
Type III level (mastery of an entire galaxy) to be able to discharge so immensely powerful weapons. Such a civilization would be intensely active and astronomers see no such activity in the galaxies the FRBs come from.


In the first place all weapons seem to have a optimal range. To far and they lose power and take to long to impact, to close they kill the user.
As far as a Type III civilization, they would be so far beyond us we would probably not know one if it was on our nearest star. (Unless for some strange reason they wanted us to know of their presence)

We are so arrogant we think they could not detect our presence or know we were listening in on them in any spectrums of energy. (Light, radio waves etc.)

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