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Astronomers detect most distant fast radio burst to date

An artist’s impression illustrates the path of the fast radio burst (ESO/M Kornmesser)
An artist’s impression illustrates the path of the fast radio burst (ESO/M Kornmesser) An artist’s impression illustrates the path of the fast radio burst (ESO/M Kornmesser)

Astronomers have detected the most distant fast radio burst (FRB) to date.

The international team spotted a remote blast of cosmic radio waves lasting less than a millisecond.

Its source was pinned down by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in a galaxy so far away that its light took eight billion years to reach us.

The fast radio burst (FRB) is also one of the most energetic ever observed – it released the equivalent of the Sun’s total emission over 30 years, in a tiny fraction of a second.

Researchers suggest the discovery confirms that FRBs can be used to measure the missing matter between galaxies, providing a new way to weigh the Universe.

Current methods of estimating the mass of the Universe give conflicting answers and challenge the standard model of cosmology.

Ryan Shannon, a professor at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, who also co-led the study, said: “If we count up the amount of normal matter in the Universe – the atoms that we are all made of – we find that more than half of what should be there today is missing.

“We think that the missing matter is hiding in the space between galaxies, but it may just be so hot and diffuse that it’s impossible to see using normal techniques.”

He added: “Fast radio bursts sense this ionised material.

“Even in space that is nearly perfectly empty they can ‘see’ all the electrons, and that allows us to measure how much stuff is between the galaxies.”

The burst, named FRB 20220610A, was discovered in June last year by the ASKAP radio telescope in Australia.

Stuart Ryder, an astronomer from Macquarie University in Australia and the co-lead author of the study, said: “Using ASKAP’s array of dishes, we were able to determine precisely where the burst came from.

“Then we used ESO’s VLT in Chile to search for the source galaxy, finding it to be older and further away than any other FRB source found to date and likely within a small group of merging galaxies.”

The findings are published in the Science journal.