Scientists Can Now Pick Up Deep Space Signals in Real Time

An artist’s impression of the fast radio burst detected at the Molonglo Radio Telescope.
James Josephides/Swinburne

Over the past dozen years, scientists have been finding enigmatic, fleeting signals called fast radio bursts, or FRBs, by poring over previous observations for the bright blips that come from the other side of the cosmos. Now, for the first time, the powerful flashes of radio waves have been picked up the moment they arrive at Earth.

Doctoral student Wael Farah at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology developed an automated system that uses machine learning to capture FRBs in real time. The very first FRB was detected in 2007 within observations from 2001, and most other detections have also been made by reviewing data after the fact.

Exactly what FRBs are and where they come from remains one of the newest and most intriguing mysteries in space science. What we know is that they originate from very powerful sources on the other side of the universe — we’re talking billions of light years from us — and last just milliseconds. Only a handful of FRBs so far have been observed to repeat themselves, a characteristic that makes them easier to trace to a source galaxy.

Farah said part of his motivation for studying FRBs is that they can be used to study the darker parts of the cosmos between galaxies that are otherwise almost impossible to see.

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SOURCE: Cnet, Eric Mack