Fast Radio Burst Discovery Solves The Mystery Of ‘Missing Matter’ In The Universe

Posted: Feb 24 2016, 11:54pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 25 2016, 11:45pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Fast Radio Burst Discovery Solves the Mystery of ‘Missing Matter’ in the Universe
Image Credit: D. Kaplan (UWM), E. F. Keane (SKAO).

Researchers have been able to track down the location of a fast radio burst for the first time and they have used it to 'weigh' the universe.

Fast radio bursts (FBRs) are intense bursts of radio waves that last only a few milliseconds and appear randomly across the sky. That is why these flashes are very difficult to detect and identify and their source of origin always remained a mystery for the scientists. A total of 17 radio bursts have been observed so far although astronomers suspect there could be thousands of them bursting in the space every day. 

On April 2015, a fast radio burst was detected by Australia’s CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope. The discovery was immediately followed up by powerful telescopes around the world. 

Among those respondents were Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru telescope in Hawaii and these are the ones who have been able to track down the location of the fast radio burst for the first time. 

Researchers used a combination of radio and optical telescopes to calculate the location of the fast radio burst.

“Our discovery opens the way to working out what makes these bursts.” Dr Simon Johnston, astrophysicist at CSIRO and a member of the research team said.

Researchers found that FRB 150418, which released as much energy as the Sun emits in 10,000 years, came from an elliptical galaxy six-billion light years away. Researchers also used this fast radio burst as a tool to ‘weigh’ the universe or to find the matter that has gone missing. 

“Until now, the dispersion measure is all we had. By also having a distance we can now measure how dense the material is between the point of origin and Earth, and compare that with the current model of the distribution of matter in the universe,” said Johnston. “Essentially this lets us weigh the universe, or at least the normal matter it contains.”

Universe is made up of only 5% of ordinary matter or the material visible to us. The rest 95% is dark matter which is only felt by its gravitational pull but never been seen directly. The discovery of fast radio burst confirms the current cosmological model of the distribution of matter in the universe. 

“The good news is our observations and the model match — we have found the missing matter," explained lead researcher Dr Evan Keane. “It's the first time a fast radio burst has been used to conduct a cosmological measurement.”

Previously, fast radio bursts were detected by sifting through data months or even years later. By that time it is too late to do follow up observations. In order to solve this problem, Evan Keane developed a system to alert other telescopes within seconds and looked at the path where flash had come from.

In the near future, CSIRO is planning to find and monitor more fast radio bursts as soon as they appear on the sky. 

"The key to this project was the rapid localization of FRB and identifying the host galaxy," said co-atuhor Benjamin Stappers. "Discovering more FRBs will allow us to do even more detailed studies of the missing matter and perhaps even study dark energy."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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