Synchronized telescopes put limits on mystery bursts | 11/11/2018 | EarthSky

Tile 107 – nicknamed the Outlier – is part of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a radiotelescope located in an extremely sparsely populated, flat, semi-arid terrain in Western Australia. The MWA, and another telescope nearby, were used to study fast radio bursts. Image via Pete Wheeler/ICRAR.

Here’s a cool story we nearly missed. The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) described on October 29, 2018, the way in which two Australian radiotelescopes were synchronized, in order to study the mysterious fast radio bursts. These millisecond-scale bursts have perplexed astronomers ever since the first burst was discovered in 2007. They’re exceptionally bright, and they’re known to come from deep space. Dozens of them have now been found, but no one knows what causes them. The two telescopes – located side-by-side in the desert of Western Australia’s remote Murchison region – have now shed some light on the mystery, in a new paper published in the peer-reviewed Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Telescopes - Murchison - Widefield - Array - MWA

The telescopes are the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), and they were synchronized to observe the same patch of sky, searching that area for fast radio bursts.

And indeed, in the published research, astronomers described how ASKAP did detect several extremely bright fast radio bursts, while the MWA – which scans the sky at lower radio frequencies – did not see anything, even though it was pointed at the same area of sky at the same time.

Artist - Concept - Telescope - ASKAP - Radiotelescope

Artist’s concept of the second synchronized telescope, called the ASKAP radiotelescope, detecting a fast radio burst. Scientists don’t know what causes FRBs, but it must involve incredible energy — equivalent to the amount released by the sun in 80 years. Image via OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology/ICRAR.

Lead author of the new work is Marcin Sokolowski of Curtin University. He said the...
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