Invisible flash illuminates understanding of cosmos

Invisible flash illuminates understanding of cosmos

A brief but brilliant burst of radiation that travelled at least a billion light years through space to reach an Australian radio telescope has given scientists new insight into the fabric of the universe.

Curtin University’s Dr Ryan Shannon, who co-led research into the sighting, said the flash, known as a Fast Radio Burst (FRB), was one of the brightest seen since they were first detected in 2001.

“FRBs are extremely short but intense pulses of radio waves, each only lasting about a millisecond,” Dr Shannon said.

“This particular FRB is unique because its travel path can be reconstructed to a precise line of sight and back to an area of space about a billion light years away.”

Dr Shannon said that this Fast Radio Burst was also unique in the amount of information it contained about the “cosmic web” – the swirling gases and magnetic fields between galaxies that make up the fabric of the universe.

“It is amazing how these very few milliseconds of data can tell us how weak the magnetic field is along the travelled path and how the cosmos is as turbulent as we predicted,” he said.

Professor Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology, co-author of the paper published in Science magazine, said decoding and understanding the information in this Fast Radio Burst was an exceptional opportunity to explore the physical forces and extreme environment out in space.

You can read more about the significance of this discovery here. Story credit: Curtin University newsroom.

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