Now, using the CSIRO Parkes 64metre radio telescope in Australia, an international research team has detected
mysterious bursts of radio waves coming from billions of light years away.
"In a recent survey for pulsars and fast transients, we have uncovered four millisecond-duration radio transients
all more than 40° from the Galactic plane. The bursts’ properties indicate that they are of celestial rather
than terrestrial origin," scientists explain in their paper.
The team says their brightness and distance suggest they come from cosmological distances
when the Universe was just half its current age.
The burst energetics indicate that they originate from an extreme astrophysical event involving relativistic objects
such as neutron stars or black holes.
The findings pointed to some extreme events involving large amounts of mass or energy as the source of the
radio bursts," according to study lead Dan Thornton, a PhD student at England's
University of Manchester and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
"A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our Galaxy about six years ago but
no one was certain what it was or even if it was real, so we have spent the last four years searching for more
of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts. This paper describes four more bursts, removing any doubt that
they are real.
"The radio bursts last for just a few milliseconds and the furthest one that we detected was
several billion light years away."
Astonishingly, the findings - taken from a tiny fraction of the sky - also suggest that there should be one of
these signals going off every 10 seconds.
the CSIRO Observatory is home to the 64 metre Parkes Radio Telescope,
operating since 1961 and utilized by astronomers from across Australia and around the world.
"The bursts last only a tenth of the blink of an eye. With current telescopes we need to be lucky to look at
the right spot at the right time. But if we could view the sky with 'radio eyes' there would be flashes going
off all over the sky every day," Max-Planck Institute Director, co-author and Manchester professor,
Michael Kramer, explained.
Author Professor Matthew Bailes, from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, thinks the origin
of these explosive bursts may be from magnetic neutron stars, known as 'magnetars'.
A Population of Fast Radio Bursts at Cosmological Distances
"Magnetars can give off more energy in a millisecond than our Sun does in 300,000 years and are a leading
candidate for the burst," he said.
The researchers say their results will also provide a way of finding out the properties of space between the Earth
and where the bursts occurred.
"We are still not sure about what makes up the space between galaxies, so we will be able to use these radio bursts
like probes in order to understand more about some of the missing matter in the Universe," Dr Ben Stappers, another
author from Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy, said.
"We are now starting to use Parkes and other telescopes, like the Lovell Telescope of the University of Manchester,
to look for these bursts in real time."