Fast radio bursts (FRBs) have long baffled astronomers. These huge energy surges in space produce as much power in less than a second as the Sun does in 1,000 years. Scientists used to discover them years after they happened, so they were unable to determine the source or cause of the bursts. They’d even wondered if aliens were behind the mysterious phenomenon. That all changed with an incredible finding by a team of scientists in Australia, who were finally able to record an FRB as it occurred.

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“In the past FRBs have been found by sifting through data months or even years later. By that time it is too late to do follow-up observations,” said co-author Dr. Evan Keane to Phys.org.

On April 18, 2015, Keane’s team at the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Australia detected an FRB and notified other telescopes. Data from Japan’s Subaru Telescope in Hawaii helped determine that the burst came from a galaxy six billion light years away. An international team published a paper in the Nature journal that details their methods so astronomers can replicate them in the future.

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Real time data will allow scientists to learn more about the nature of FRBs, and could also help us learn more about gravitational waves and dark matter.

“A large census of FRBs will not only add to our understanding of their population but also map out the cosmic web in great detail, provide stringent tests of general relativity, and even yield new constraints on the nature of dark energy,” said Dr. Duncan Lorimer, whose team discovered the first FRB back in 2007.

However, astronomers don’t yet know what causes the FRBs. Last fall, we published an article about strange activity around a star light years away that could signal alien technology. Scientists hoped to study the star’s radio waves to see if they reflected technological activity as radio waves coming from Earth do. Could this new research help them analyze those radio waves?

Don’t get too excited – we probably haven’t discovered aliens. However, we won’t know for sure until scientists can determine the cause of FRBs.

Via Popular Science

Images via Wikipedia Commons (1,2)