Ancient FRBs detected by ASKAP Friday, 09 June 2017

News article written by Corbett Communications. The statements made or opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Engineers Australia.

Six billion light years is a long time in anyone’s diary so when Australia’s Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope identified a strong but ancient radio signal, researchers were impressed. More so as it was identified just four days after flicking ASKAP’s on-switch.

The signal, estimated to have travelled through space for six billion years at the speed of light, was detected by ASKAP in the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in mid-west region of Western Australia. It is made up of fast radio bursts (FRBs) - short, sharp spike of radio waves that last a few milliseconds. It’s not yet known what causes these but it’s believed they come from very powerful events that took place billions of light years from our own planet.

ASKAP is part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project with sites in Western Australia and southern Africa, of which CSIRO is a principal partner among various consortia across 11 countries. The SKA*, set to be commence construction next year, will be made up of thousands of receptors linked by high bandwidth optical fibre. Its aim is to drive progress in ICT and high performance computing, CSIRO said.

The recently detected FRBS were found using just eight of the radio telescope’s 36 dishes as part of the commensal real-time ASKAP fast transients survey project. Named FRB170107, the signal comes from the edge of the Leo constellation.

Dr Keith Bannister from the survey project said the FRB was extremely bright, concluding that the energy involved would be “enormous” given the distance it had travelled. But this made the phenomenon harder to explain, he revealed.

To detect FRBs, his team pointed the eight radio telescope dishes in slightly different directions (like the segments of a fly’s eye). With the eight dishes, ASKAP can see 240 square degrees at the same time. With 12 dishes active, Dr Bannister said he expected to find a new FRB every second day.

*Phase 1 construction will take place 2018-2023, providing an operational array of elements capable of carrying out science in low and mid frequencies while Phase 2 (SKA2) and the high frequency dishes will follow, providing frequencies up to 20 GHz.

Author: Desi Corbett

Image: ASKAP dishes. Source: CSIRO