Astronomers have spotted the most distant fast radio burst (FRB) to date in a galaxy so far away that its light took eight billion years to reach Earth.
The remote blast of cosmic radio waves, whose source was detected by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), lasted less than a millisecond.
It released the equivalent of the Sun’s total emission over 30 years, in a tiny fraction of a second, making it one of the most energetic FRBs ever observed, scientists said.
FRBs are super intense, millisecond-long bursts of radio waves produced by unidentified sources in the distant cosmos.
They were discovered in 2007 by American astronomer Duncan Lorimer, Science Alert said on its website.
Only a few dozen similar events have been observed in data collected by radio telescopes around the world and it is not known what causes them, the Science journal said on its website.
Most last just a few milliseconds and are never seen again, but two are known to have repeated their emissions.
The discovery confirms that FRBs can be used to measure the missing matter between galaxies, offering a new way to weigh the Universe, the research team said.
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At the moment, the methods used to gauge the mass of the Universe give conflicting answers and challenge the standard model of cosmology.
Professor Ryan Shannon, of the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, who co-led the study, said: “If we count up the amount of normal matter in the Universe – the atoms that we are all made of – we find that more than half of what should be there today is missing.
“We think that the missing matter is hiding in the space between galaxies, but it may just be so hot and diffuse that it’s impossible to see using normal techniques.”
He added: “Fast radio bursts sense this ionised material.
“Even in space that is nearly perfectly empty they can ‘see’ all the electrons, and that allows us to measure how much stuff is between the galaxies.”
The burst, named FRB 20220610A, was discovered in June last year by the ASKAP radio telescope in Australia.
Stuart Ryder, an astronomer from Macquarie University in Australia and the co-lead author of the study, said the burst was “older and further away than any other FRB source found to date and likely within a small group of merging galaxies”.
The findings are published in the Science journal.