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‘The big breakthrough’: Extraterrestrial radio signal source finally pinpointed for 1st time

‘The big breakthrough’: Extraterrestrial radio signal source finally pinpointed for 1st time
Astrophysicists have finally made a breakthrough, 12 years in the making, by tracing a singular fast radio burst to its origin some 3.6 billion light years away. The finding will tell us more about the composition of the universe.

Named FRB 180924, the singular milliseconds-long flash that contains the radio wavelengths of half-a-billion suns was captured using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) which took 10 trillion raw measurements per second across a patch of sky. For the first time, a one-off flash –impossible to predict and nearly as difficult to trace– was captured.

Like a cosmic needle in a haystack, the team of researchers sifted through, literally, billions of measurements within the data before discovering the signal. 

“This is the big breakthrough that the field has been waiting for since astronomers discovered fast radio bursts (FRBs) in 2007,” said astro-engineer Keith Bannister of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in a statement. The team’s research has been published in Science.

By measuring the delays between signals hitting the 36 ASKAP dishes, the team was able to triangulate the burst’s position in two dimensions. Then three of the world’s most powerful optical telescopes were drafted in to triangulate the distance, or third dimension. 

The delay between the start and end of the burst will tell us what volume of gas the burst passed through on its way to Earth, providing more insights about the composition of the universe while adding to our understanding of the perplexing space between galaxies.

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Scientists previously traced FRB 121102 to a region of a dwarf galaxy some three billion light-years away but this signal bursts repeatedly, making it far easier to track down.

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