BC Telescope Provides Insight Into FRBs

By Ben Hamill - February 01, 2020
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Trying to figure out the exact nature of what they are and where they originate from is not all that different to a celestial game of Clue. Astrophysicists all around the world have been playing a cosmic game of cat and mouse ever since fast radio bursts (FRBs) appeared on the scene around about a decade ago. They’re brief enigmas and the fact that they’re bright bursts of radio waves not from our own galaxy is just about the sum-total of the information that we’ve managed to accumulate about them. Until very recently, that is.

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A team of eager and rather astute Canadian scientists have now managed to pinpoint what they assume to be the exact origin of one of these bursts in a nearby galaxy. What has made studying FRBs to be especially problematic is the fact that of the many bursts spotted since humans first noticed their existence in 2007, only about a dozen have paraded a repeat appearance. Even so, the some 50 scientists involved with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) have only ever been able to trace the beginnings of two repeat-FRBs. The limited amount of data continues to severely limit scientists from being in a position of declaring anything about the little blips of radio waves as being either dinkum, or off the table. 

Insight Into Our Universe

The real value behind the team’s research is the fact that even though we don’t yet understand all that much about FRBs, even just scratching the surface will allow us to figure out a great deal about our own universe. So says York University professor in physics and astronomy, Paul Delaney. Which is when you really think about it a lot similar to how the moon landing gave us Velcro.

The research team collects data from a massive and very complex radio telescope that is situated at British Columbia’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. The observatory is located just to the south of Penticton and the telescope is able to monitor various stellar events not captured quite as effectively by most other telescopes.

Why CHIME Is Different

According to the University of Toronto’s Mubdi Rahman, who is one of the research associates working on the project, it’s the BC-stationed telescope’s ability to survey large portions of the sky that enables the team to more effectively study FRBs. Says Rahman, CHIME stays stable all throughout and doesn’t constantly direct and re-direct its gaze, allowing instead the sky to move whilst simply all the while observing.

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