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News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: phys.org

Artist impression of a Fast Radio Burst (FRB) reaching Earth. The colors represent the burst arriving at different radio wavelengths, with long wavelengths (red) arriving several seconds after short wavelengths (blue). This delay is called dispersion and occurs when radio waves travel through cosmic plasma. Credit: Jingchuan Yu, Beijing Planetarium / NRAO Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are brief spurts of radio emission, lasting just one-thousandth of a second, whose origins are mysterious. Fewer than two dozen have been identified in the past decade using giant radio telescopes such as the 1,000-foot dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Of those, only one has been pinpointed to originate from a galaxy about 3 billion light-years away. The other known FRBs seem to also come from distant galaxies, but there is no obvious reason that, every once in a while, an FRB wouldn't occur in our own Milky Way galaxy too. If it did, astronomers suggest that it would be "loud" enough that a global network of cell phones or small radio receivers could "hear" it. "The search for nearby fast radio bursts offers an opportunity for citizen scientists to help astronomers find and study one of the newest species in the galactic zoo," says theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Previous FRBs were detected at radio frequencies that match those used by cell phones, Wi-Fi, and similar devices. Consumers could potentially download a free smartphone app that would run in the background, monitoring appropriate frequencies and sending the data to a central processing facility. "An FRB in the Milky Way, essentially in our own back yard, would wash over the entire planet at once. If thousands of cell phones picked up a radio blip at nearly the same time, that would be a good sign that we've found a real event," explains lead author Dan Maoz of Tel Aviv University. Finding a Milky Way FRB might require some patience. Based on the few, more distant ones, that have been spotted so far, Maoz and Loeb estimate that a new one might pop off in the Milky Way once every 30 to 1,500 years. However, given that some FRBs are known to burst repeatedly, perhaps for decades or even centuries, there might be one alive in the Milky Way today. If so, success could become a yearly or even weekly event. A dedicated network of specialized detectors could be even more helpful in the search for a nearby FRB. For as little as $10 each, off-the-shelf devices that plug into the USB port of a laptop or desktop computer can be purchased. If thousands of such detectors were deployed around the world, especially in areas relatively free from Earthly radio interference, then finding a close FRB might just be a matter of time. This work has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available online. More information: "Searching for Giga-Jansky Fast Radio Bursts from the Milky Way with a Global Array of Low-Cost Radio Receivers," Dan Maoz & Abraham Loeb, 2017, accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society arxiv.org/abs/1701.01475


The search for fast radio burst could be bolstered by citizen scientists using their mobile phones. A team of researchers has said a global network of phones and small radio receivers could be used to detect these mystery signals emanating from an unknown source in space. In a report that has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA) and Tel Aviv University say if such a network were in place, it could be used to detect a simultaneous radio blip. This blip would indicate a FRB has been recorded – coming from inside the Milky Way. FRBs are radio signals coming from unknown sources deep in space. Lasting just a few milliseconds, scientists have struggled to identify their origin – the few dozen that have been detected were identified from data after the event, meaning their origin could not be traced back. At present, only one FRB has been found to repeat. In total, scientists have recorded 16 bursts coming from FRB 121102 – meaning they could be tracked to a galaxy three billion light years away. But even though we now know the location, we still do not know what is causing these bursts. The search for more FRBs continues, with astronomers across the globe using huge radio telescopes to detect them. The team say this presents an opportunity to harness a global collective of citizen scientists to look out for FRBs from within our own galaxy. While other FRBs appear to be coming from deep space, there is no reason to think one could not emanate closer to home. "An FRB in the Milky Way, essentially in our own back yard, would wash over the entire planet at once. If thousands of cell phones picked up a radio blip at nearly the same time, that would be a good sign that we've found a real event," said lead author Dan Maoz of Tel Aviv University. How it would work: We propose to search for Galactic FRBs using a global array of low-cost radio receivers. Participating phones would continuously listen for and record candidate FRBs and would periodically upload information to a central data processing website, which correlates the incoming data from all participants, to identify the signature of a real, globe-encompassing, FRB from an astronomical distance. Triangulation of the GPS-based pulse arrival times reported from different locations will provide the FRB sky position, potentially to arc-second accuracy. Pulse arrival times from phones operating at diverse frequencies, or from an on-device de-dispersion search, will yield the dispersion measure (DM) which will indicate the FRB source distance within the Galaxy. FRBs have been detected at frequencies that match those used by mobile phones and Wi-Fi. Potentially, people could download an app that would constantly be running in the background, monitoring frequencies. It could then send data to a central processing facility where any abnormalities could be identified. The researchers calculate there might be FRBs in the Milky Way once every 30 to 1,500 years. But if it is a repeating burst – like FRB 121102 – it may pop up every week. "If FRBs originate from galaxies at cosmological distances, then their all-sky rate implies that the Milky Way may host an FRB on average once every 30 to 1,500 years," they wrote. "If FRBs repeat for decades or centuries, a local FRB could be active now." Avi Loeb, from the CfA, said: "The search for nearby fast radio bursts offers an opportunity for citizen scientists to help astronomers find and study one of the newest species in the galactic zoo."


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: spaceref.com

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are brief spurts of radio emission, lasting just one-thousandth of a second, whose origins are mysterious. Fewer than two dozen have been identified in the past decade using giant radio telescopes such as the 1,000-foot dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Of those, only one has been pinpointed to originate from a galaxy about 3 billion light-years away. The other known FRBs seem to also come from distant galaxies, but there is no obvious reason that, every once in a while, an FRB wouldn't occur in our own Milky Way galaxy too. If it did, astronomers suggest that it would be "loud" enough that a global network of cell phones or small radio receivers could "hear" it. "The search for nearby fast radio bursts offers an opportunity for citizen scientists to help astronomers find and study one of the newest species in the galactic zoo," says theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Previous FRBs were detected at radio frequencies that match those used by cell phones, Wi-Fi, and similar devices. Consumers could potentially download a free smartphone app that would run in the background, monitoring appropriate frequencies and sending the data to a central processing facility. "An FRB in the Milky Way, essentially in our own back yard, would wash over the entire planet at once. If thousands of cell phones picked up a radio blip at nearly the same time, that would be a good sign that we've found a real event," explains lead author Dan Maoz of Tel Aviv University. Finding a Milky Way FRB might require some patience. Based on the few, more distant ones, that have been spotted so far, Maoz and Loeb estimate that a new one might pop off in the Milky Way once every 30 to 1,500 years. However, given that some FRBs are known to burst repeatedly, perhaps for decades or even centuries, there might be one alive in the Milky Way today. If so, success could become a yearly or even weekly event. A dedicated network of specialized detectors could be even more helpful in the search for a nearby FRB. For as little as $10 each, off-the-shelf devices that plug into the USB port of a laptop or desktop computer can be purchased. If thousands of such detectors were deployed around the world, especially in areas relatively free from Earthly radio interference, then finding a close FRB might just be a matter of time. This work has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available online. Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe. Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


News Article | January 5, 2017
Site: www.huffingtonpost.com

Thrilled scientists have finally traced the deep space source of mysterious bursts of powerful radio signals to an intriguing dwarf galaxy more than 3 billion light-years from Earth. “Now our objective is to figure out why that happens,” said one of the scientists, Casey Law of the University of California, Berkeley. Astronomers have detected similar signals (fast radio bursts, or FRBs) since 2007 and estimate that thousands of the signals shoot across the universe each day. Discovery of the dwarf galaxy’s signals, first detected a year ago, is groundbreaking because the bursts have repeated from the same location — and long enough to be tracked. “We are the first to show that this is a cosmological phenomenon. It’s not something in our backyard. And we are the first to see where this thing is happening, in this little galaxy, which I think is a surprise,” said Law. Astronomers initially detected the radio bursts coming from a single region far beyond the Milky Way in 2012 and labeled the emissions FRB 121102. After 83 hours over six months last year using the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope in New Mexico, astronomers detected nine more bursts from the same location and pointed the powerful Gemini optical telescope in Hawaii as well as a network of European radio telescopes at the region. That’s when FRB 121102 erupted again, several times, allowing scientists to pinpoint the source. Besides detecting the powerful FRBs, the team also observed an ongoing, persistent source of weaker radio emission in the same region. “We think that the bursts and the continuous source are likely to be either the same object or that they are somehow physically associated with each other,” said scientist Benito Marcote of the Joint Institute for VLBI in the Netherlands. The astronomers believe the pulse sources may be neutron stars — dense objects that form after a star collapses and emit radio pulses as they spin. The team also speculates that the pulse could be produced by highly magnetic magnetars, a kind of neutron star surrounded by material ejected by a supernova explosion — or may be the death pulses of a black hole. Some astronomers even speculated that the fast radio bursts were being broadcast by aliens. But an initially noted mathematical pattern became increasingly muddled as astronomers gathered more data. Whatever the final determination, the discovery could provide an important new window into the early universe and clues to other mysteries of the cosmos. “There used to be an expression, ‘as unchanging as the heavens,’” Cornell University team scientist Shami Chaterjee told National Geographic. “But the heavens are changing very fast. The sky is just boiling and seething with these incredibly powerful events that we don’t really understand.”


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

For the first time, we have followed a fast radio burst home. While we’re still not sure what causes these brief barrages of radio waves, we now know where one of them comes from, giving us a new way to study their origins. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are some of the universe’s most elusive phenomena: powerful radio signals that flash from distant space for milliseconds and then disappear without a trace. They have been blamed on everything from black holes to extraterrestrial intelligence. Because they’re so brief, and because radio telescopes can only watch a small area of the sky at a time, only 18 FRBs have ever been detected. Of those, only one has been observed to repeat: FRB 121102. Now, a team of astronomers has used a collection of radio telescopes around the globe to finally pinpoint this repeating burst. “It is absolutely nailed down,” says Shami Chatterjee at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who presented the results at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas today. “Even two months ago, I did not think we could tell this full story, and now we can.” Chatterjee and his colleagues tracked down the FRB using the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, a group of 27 radio telescopes in New Mexico, and the 21-telescope European VLBI Network. Together, these networks can achieve much higher resolution than any single radio dish. After observing nine more bursts, they located the FRB about 100,000 times more precisely than previous attempts with individual telescopes. This boost in precision allowed Chatterjee and his colleagues to unambiguously associate an FRB with other signals for the first time. Persistent radio waves that the researchers discovered originating from near FRB 121102 are actually coming from exactly the same place, an extremely faint dot in the sky. That tiny dot, FRB 121102’s home, is a dwarf galaxy. It’s around a tenth the diameter of the Milky Way, dim but still forming stars, and more than 2.5 billion light years away. “Before this step was taken, we could still continue having endless arguments about exactly how far away the FRBs were and therefore what their energetics were and what they were coming from,” says Chatterjee. “Now we know.” Knowing where an FRB comes from allows us to rule out some of the many proposed explanations for their origins. Since this example is so far away, it must be extremely energetic and bright – so it’s unlikely that any of the other FRBs we’ve seen come from our immediate neighbourhood. Two explanations for FRB 121102’s origin still stand out. The first is that it could come from an active galactic nucleus: a bright region around a black hole in the centres of some galaxies that spews radio waves as it vaporises the gas and plasma around it. But the researchers’ preferred explanation is that FRB 121102 and its constant radio companion are caused by the remnants of a supernova being energised by a young, rapidly spinning neutron star. Since the FRB’s host galaxy is similar to the surprisingly faint galaxies that produce the brightest supernovae, this scenario is an enticing fit – although it’s nowhere near proven yet. “What we learn from these papers may not be applicable to FRBs more broadly,” says Peter Williams at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. It is possible that FRB 121102 is special and that most FRBs are of an entirely different, non-repeating type. “However, folks have looked for interesting objects at the positions of other FRBs and nothing particularly compelling has turned up. That’s consistent with the fairly wimpy host galaxy revealed by this work.” Chatterjee shares that concern. “Our highest priority for the future is to find one more FRB that repeats,” he says. “Right now we are arguing from a sample of one, which is always a dangerous argument to be making.”


News Article | November 15, 2016
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

Penn State University astronomers have discovered that the mysterious "cosmic whistles" known as fast radio bursts can pack a serious punch, in some cases releasing a billion times more energy in gamma-rays than they do in radio waves and rivaling the stellar cataclysms known as supernovae in their explosive power. The discovery, the first-ever finding of non-radio emission from any fast radio burst, drastically raises the stakes for models of fast radio bursts and is expected to further energize efforts by astronomers to chase down and identify long-lived counterparts to fast radio bursts using X-ray, optical, and radio telescopes. Fast radio bursts, which astronomers refer to as FRBs, were first discovered in 2007, and in the years since radio astronomers have detected a few dozen of these events. Although they last mere milliseconds at any single frequency, their great distances from Earth -- and large quantities of intervening plasma -- delay their arrival at lower frequencies, spreading the signal out over a second or more and yielding a distinctive downward-swooping "whistle" across the typical radio receiver band. "This discovery revolutionizes our picture of FRBs, some of which apparently manifest as both a whistle and a bang," said coauthor Derek Fox, a Penn State professor of astronomy and astrophysics. The radio whistle can be detected by ground-based radio telescopes, while the gamma-ray bang can be picked up by high-energy satellites like NASA's Swift mission. "Rate and distance estimates for FRBs suggest that, whatever they are, they are a relatively common phenomenon, occurring somewhere in the universe more than 2,000 times a day." Efforts to identify FRB counterparts began soon after their discovery but have all come up empty until now. In a paper published November 11 in Astrophysical Journal Letters the Penn State team, led by physics graduate student James DeLaunay, reports bright gamma-ray emission from the fast radio burst FRB 131104, named after the date it occurred, November 4, 2013. "I started this search for FRB counterparts without expecting to find anything," said DeLaunay. "This burst was the first that even had useful data to analyze. When I saw that it showed a possible gamma-ray counterpart, I couldn't believe my luck!" Discovery of the gamma-ray "bang" from FRB 131104, the first non-radio counterpart to any FRB, was made possible by NASA's Earth-orbiting Swift satellite, which was observing the exact part of the sky where FRB 131104 occurred as the burst was detected by the Parkes Observatory radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. "Swift is always watching the sky for bursts of X-rays and gamma-rays," said Neil Gehrels, the mission's Principal Investigator and chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "What a delight it was to catch this flash from one of the mysterious fast radio bursts." "Although theorists had anticipated that FRBs might be accompanied by gamma rays, the gamma-ray emission we see from FRB 131104 is surprisingly long-lasting and bright," Fox said. The duration of the gamma-ray emission, at two to six minutes, is many times the millisecond duration of the radio emission. And the gamma-ray emission from FRB 131104 outshines its radio emissions by more than a billion times, dramatically raising estimates of the burst's energy requirements and suggesting severe consequences for the burst's surroundings and host galaxy. Two common models for gamma-ray emission from FRBs exist: one invoking magnetic flare events from magnetars -- highly magnetized neutron stars that are the dense remnants of collapsed stars -- and another invoking the catastrophic merger of two neutron stars, colliding to form a black hole. According to coauthor Kohta Murase, a Penn State professor and theorist, "The energy release we see is challenging for the magnetar model unless the burst is relatively nearby. The long timescale of the gamma-ray emission, while unexpected in both models, might be possible in a merger event if we observe the merger from the side, in an off-axis scenario." "In fact, the energy and timescale of the gamma-ray emission is a better match to some types of supernovae, or to some of the supermassive black hole accretion events that Swift has seen," Fox said. "The problem is that no existing models predict that we would see an FRB in these cases." The bright gamma-ray emission from FRB 131104 suggests that the burst, and others like it, might be accompanied by long-lived X-ray, optical, or radio emissions. Such counterparts are dependably seen in the wake of comparably energetic cosmic explosions, including both stellar-scale cataclysms -- supernovae, magnetar flares, and gamma-ray bursts -- and episodic or continuous accretion activity of the supermassive black holes that commonly lurk in the centers of galaxies. In fact, Swift X-ray and optical observations were carried out two days after FRB 131104, thanks to prompt analysis by radio astronomers (who were not aware of the gamma-ray counterpart) and a nimble response from the Swift mission operations team, headquartered at Penn State. In spite of this relatively well-coordinated response, no long-lived X-ray, ultraviolet, or optical counterpart was seen. The authors hope to participate in future campaigns aimed at discovering more FRB counterparts, and in this way, finally revealing the sources responsible for these ubiquitous and mysterious events. "Ideally, these campaigns would begin soon after the burst and would continue for several weeks afterward to make sure nothing gets missed. Maybe we'll get even luckier next time," DeLaunay said.


News Article | October 28, 2016
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

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News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are brief spurts of radio emission, lasting just one-thousandth of a second, whose origins are mysterious. Fewer than two dozen have been identified in the past decade using giant radio telescopes such as the 1,000-foot dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Of those, only one has been pinpointed to originate from a galaxy about 3 billion light-years away. The other known FRBs seem to also come from distant galaxies, but there is no obvious reason that, every once in a while, an FRB wouldn't occur in our own Milky Way galaxy too. If it did, astronomers suggest that it would be "loud" enough that a global network of cell phones or small radio receivers could "hear" it. "The search for nearby fast radio bursts offers an opportunity for citizen scientists to help astronomers find and study one of the newest species in the galactic zoo," says theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Previous FRBs were detected at radio frequencies that match those used by cell phones, Wi-Fi, and similar devices. Consumers could potentially download a free smartphone app that would run in the background, monitoring appropriate frequencies and sending the data to a central processing facility. "An FRB in the Milky Way, essentially in our own back yard, would wash over the entire planet at once. If thousands of cell phones picked up a radio blip at nearly the same time, that would be a good sign that we've found a real event," explains lead author Dan Maoz of Tel Aviv University. Finding a Milky Way FRB might require some patience. Based on the few, more distant ones, that have been spotted so far, Maoz and Loeb estimate that a new one might pop off in the Milky Way once every 30 to 1,500 years. However, given that some FRBs are known to burst repeatedly, perhaps for decades or even centuries, there might be one alive in the Milky Way today. If so, success could become a yearly or even weekly event. A dedicated network of specialized detectors could be even more helpful in the search for a nearby FRB. For as little as $10 each, off-the-shelf devices that plug into the USB port of a laptop or desktop computer can be purchased. If thousands of such detectors were deployed around the world, especially in areas relatively free from Earthly radio interference, then finding a close FRB might just be a matter of time.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.nytimes.com

A composite image of FRB 121102, which astronomers identified as the source of bursts of radio waves.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

Fast radio bursts seem to come from distant galaxies, but there is no obvious reason that, every once in a while, an FRB wouldn't occur in our own Milky Way galaxy too. If it did, astronomers suggest that it would be 'loud' enough that a global network of cell phones or small radio receivers could 'hear' it.

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