Jul 16, 2019 | Updated: 11:17 AM EDT

Mysterious Radiowave Outburst Captured From Space in the Blink of an Eye

Jan 20, 2015 12:45 PM EST

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Radio telescopes
(Photo : Stephen Hanafin/Flickr)

A burst of activity that was detected by the Australian CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope in eastern part of the country was reported to have occurred sometime earlier last week. Was this a fluke in the telescope's reading? How could the waves remained somewhat intact after traveling nearly 6-billion light-years away? While some of these questions can't be answered at this moment, it marks a first for the astronomy community in catching the reception of such radio waves in real-time.

The eyewitness to the burst of activity detected by the satellites was a PhD student at Swinburne University of Technology, Emily Petroff.

"These bursts were generally discovered weeks, months or even more than a decade after they happened," Petroff says. "We are the first to catch one in real time."

Quickly after noticing the burst in activity, Petroff then went about notifying like-minded astronomers, leading to twelve telescopes syncing-up worldwide, across four continents and even extended to space. A similar burst of activity was discovered, by chance, in 2007. And, since that first incident, six more have been accounted for, but none of which have been captured in real-time.

"We can rule out some ideas because no counterparts were seen in the optical, infrared, ultraviolet or X-ray," CSIRO's Head of Astrophysics Dr. Simon Johnston says. "However, the neat idea that we are seeing a neutron star imploding into a black hole remains a possibility."

But, another aspect that's baffling the astronomers is the sheer distance the "smeared" signal managed to travel, and how strong it must have originally been.

"This means it could have given off as much energy in a few milliseconds as the sun does in a day," Petroff says..

That's an obscene amount of kinetic energy that must have been released at one given time; this factoid meshes well with the theory that the radio waves might have originated from a catastrophic celestial event. And now, with the burst archived and somewhat dissected by Petroff and her team, it's only a matter of time until the team of astronomers can pinpoint the origin of the burst.

"We've set the trap" Petroff says. "Now we just have to wait for another burst to fall into it."

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