Quirks & Quarks

Cosmic blasts from a galaxy far, far away

Since they were first described in 2007, fast radio bursts have confounded astronomers.
Radio telescopes like this one at the Very Large Array in New Mexico allows astronomers to create images of natural cosmic phenomena. (AFP/Getty Images)

Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, were only first described 10 years ago.

Since then, scientists have detected only a total of 18 of these pulses. They're intense bursts of radio emission that last about a millisecond. 

If you could see these fast radio bursts -- these powerful and intense waves of electromagnetic radiation -- they'd be lighting up the sky at a rate of roughly two per minute. 

And although they last for just a milliscecond, they release more energy than our entire sun will radiate in 10,000 years. Let that sink in. 

The visible-light image of host galaxy to the fast radio burst FRB 121102. (Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF/NRC)

Dr. Shami Chatterjee from Cornell University and an international team have discovered the origins of at least one of these fast radio bursts. It's a tiny dwarf galaxy, with approximately a tenth of the mass of our own galaxy, and as far as three billion light years away. 

The scientists' next step is to figure out what type of cosmic activity within the galaxy might be the actual source of the FRBs. 

Research paper: A direct localiztion of a fast radio burst and its host

Quirks&Quarks interview with Dr. Victoria Kaspi, a McGill University researcher working on FRBs (March, 2016)