Hundreds of mysterious fast radio bursts have been found in space thanks to a Canadian telescope and an international team of researchers.
The origin of these bright millisecond bursts of light is unknown because such bursts, called FRBs, are unpredictable and disappear quickly.
Scientists first noticed them in 2007. In the following decade, they identified only about 140 flares throughout the universe. “The thing about FRBs is that they’re really hard to catch. You have to point your radio telescope to the right place at the right time, and you can’t predict where or when it will happen,” says Kiyoshi Masui, associate professor of physics at MIT.
According to Masui, most radio telescopes can only see a patch of sky the size of the moon at this point, meaning that the vast majority of FRBs remain invisible. The new Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope system detected 535 fast radio bursts in its first year of operation.
This allowed scientists to create a catalog of fast radio bursts, which was presented Wednesday at the 238th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. While most of the fast radio bursts occurred just once, 61 of them were repetitions in 18 sources. Repetitive bursts look different – each burst lasts a little longer than a single burst. The nature of these outbursts has not yet been determined.