Deep space is full of mysteries. Thanks to our advances in technology we are finally beginning to unravel some of them. Sometimes astronomers are able to detect things from space, but are unable to tell where, what, or who made them. For example, ultra fast radio bursts that only last a few milliseconds have been known about since 2007, but their origin has remained unknown. A study published in Nature on Feb. 25 has finally managed to pinpoint where one of them came from.
There have been several theories as to the source of these mysterious radio bursts ranging from pulsars to aliens trying to communicate. Although astronomers believe these radio wavelengths reach earth daily, only 17 have actually been recorded. In an effort to pursue any ultra fast radio burst that occur, a supercomputer has been programmed to alert a group of satellites to that specific anomaly. Once it has been detected all eyes attempt to pursue the afterglow hoping to hunt down its origin, several attempts had been made but they had all come up empty handed.
Then in 2015 that all changed when a good afterglow was captured by the group of satellites. With a little more investigating, the astronomers were able to pinpoint the source to a galaxy 6 billion light years away. The galaxy is incredibly old and the evidence at hand suggests the most likely culprit is a massive collision between two neutron stars. This catastrophic event could cause an ultra fast radio burst that would be detectable from so far away.
However, more exciting than the source of the radio bursts is the astronomer’s ability to gather information about the matter the wavelengths have traveled through. Speaking with Sky and Telescope, Evan Keane, member of the Square Kilometer Array Organization, stated, “As these radio signals traverse the cosmos, they’re imprinted with the characteristics of the universe,” says Keane. “Those smeared-out radio waves tell astronomers how much material the burst has traveled through. Now, with the host galaxy’s corresponding distance, astronomers can compute the density of electrons in the intergalactic medium and better map the distribution of matter throughout the universe.”
Space is full of all kinds of wavelengths that are able to tell us different things. If you are interested in hearing some of the actual electromagnetic vibrations that travel through space, NASA has been able to design special instruments that capture these wavelengths and translate them for our listening pleasure.