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Friday December 08, 2023

Astronomers detect mysterious 8 billion-year-old energetic burst

By AFP
October 21, 2023
This picture shows the platform of the Very Large Telescope, with its four optical telescopes and four movable auxiliary telescopes, at the European Southern Observatorys Paranal Observatory in Chiles Antofagasta Region, June 20, 2022. AFP
This picture shows the platform of the Very Large Telescope, with its four optical telescopes and four movable auxiliary telescopes, at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile's Antofagasta Region, June 20, 2022. AFP

WASHINGTON: Astronomers have detected an intense flash of radio waves coming from what looks like a merger of galaxies dating to about 8 billion years ago - the oldest-known instance of a phenomenon called a fast radio burst that continues to defy explanation. 

This burst in less than a millisecond unleashed the amount of energy our sun emits in three decades, researchers said. It was detected using the Australian SKA Pathfinder, a radio telescope in the state of Western Australia.

Its location was pinpointed by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, one of the most powerful optical telescopes. A fast radio burst, or FRB, is a pulse of radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation. It lasts a small fraction of a second but outshines most other sources of radio waves in the universe.

Radio waves have the longest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. “The radio waves in FRBs are similar to those used in microwave ovens. The amount of energy in this FRB is the equivalent to microwaving a bowl of popcorn twice the size of the sun,” said astronomer Ryan Shannon of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, co-leader of the study published this week in the journal Science.

Until now, the oldest-known such burst dated to 5 billion years ago, making this one 3 billion years older. The universe is about 13.8 billion years old. For comparison, Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.