Mysterious radio signals from 11 billion light years away detected

Astronomers have discovered micro-bursts of radio waves from beyond the galaxy which has emerged to be a new source of mystery and has left the scientists speculating about their origins.

Updated: Jul 05, 2013, 14:31 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: Astronomers have discovered micro-bursts of radio waves from beyond the galaxy which has emerged to be a new source of mystery and has left the scientists speculating about their origins. These radio waves from billions of light years away offer scientists a breakthrough because of the prospect of new insights into the mass and evolution of the universe.

Similar case was detected in 2007, six years ago, when a single burst lasting less than a tenth of an eye blink had been reported. Because of the very short span and ephemerality of it, scientists were unconvinced whether it actually took place or not. But this time, the 64 metre Parkes radio telescope in Australia recorded 4 such bursts of very high energy radio waves coming from a very long distance which leaves no doubt.

The research team comprises of scientists from the University of Manchester, the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn, and from various institutions in Australia, US and Italy and their findings are reported on Friday in the journal Science.

After studying the energy of these bursts, the scientists concluded that they originate from an extreme astrophysical event involving relativistic objects such as neutron stars or black holes. They ruled out the possibility of terrestrial sources for the fast radio bursts saying that their brightness and distance suggest they come from cosmological distances when the universe was just half its current age.

Dan Thornton, study lead of the University of Manchester and Australia`s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said the findings pointed to ‘some extreme events involving large amounts of mass or energy as the source of the radio bursts’.

He further added "A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our galaxy about six years ago but no one was certain what it was or even if it was real, so we have spent the last four years searching for more of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts. This paper describes four more bursts, removing any doubt that they are real. The radio bursts last for just a few milliseconds and the furthest one that we detected was 11 billion light years away."

"The bursts last only a tenth of the blink of an eye. With current telescopes we need to be lucky to look at the right spot at the right time. But if we could view the sky with `radio eyes` there would be flashes going off all over the sky every day," explained Max-Planck institute director and Manchester professor, Michael Kramer, the statement said.

Co-author Professor Matthew Bailes, from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, holds another opinion. He thinks the origin of these explosive bursts may be from magnetic neutron stars, known as `magnetars`. He said: "Magnetars can give off more energy in a millisecond than our sun does in 300,000 years and are a leading candidate for the burst."

The researchers say their results will also provide a way of finding out the properties of space between the Earth and where the bursts occurred.

Author Dr Ben Stappers, from Manchester`s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: "We are still not sure about what makes up the space between galaxies, so we will be able to use these radio bursts like probes in order to understand more about some of the missing matter in the universe. We are now starting to use Parkes and other telescopes, like the Lovell Telescope of the University of Manchester, to look for these bursts in real time."

Photo Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions