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Farthest-known fast radio burst pinpointed to a collection of seven galaxies

Astronomers from Northwestern University have pinpointed the extraordinary object’s birthplace, a group of at least seven galaxies.

The Webb telescope's image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, which was once shrouded in mystery due to dust
The Webb telescope's image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, which was once shrouded in mystery due to dust - Copyright AFP Aamir QURESHI
The Webb telescope's image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, which was once shrouded in mystery due to dust - Copyright AFP Aamir QURESHI

The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed the curious birthplace of record-breaking blast . This fast radio burst (FRB) is the most powerful, most distant detected to date. Further study by astronomers shows the FRB originated not in one galaxy but a group of galaxies on the path to a possible merger.

Furthermore, the location that dates halfway back to the Big Bang, making this the farthest known FRB spotted to date. With the hundreds of FRB events discovered to date, only a fraction of those have been pinpointed to their host galaxies. When these radio waves from FRBs finally meet Earth’s telescopes, they have travelled for billions of years from the distant, early universe. During this cross-universe odyssey, they interact with material along the way.

A fast radio burst is a transient radio pulse of a length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to 3 seconds,  caused by some high-energy astrophysical process. This process is not yet fully understood. FRBs appear to involve a compact object, such as a black hole or neutron star.

FRBs generate more energy in one quick burst than our sun emits in an entire year. The new record-breaking FRB (coded FRB 20220610A) was even more extreme than its predecessors, being four times more energetic than closer FRBs.

FRB 20220610A originated when the universe was just 5 billion years old (the universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old.) Astronomers first detected FRB 20220610A with the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder radio telescope in Western Australia and then confirmed its origin with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Astronomers from Northwestern University have pinpointed the extraordinary object’s birthplace, a group of at least seven galaxies. The galaxies appear to be interacting with one another, seemingly on a path to a potential merger (compact groups). Such groups of galaxies are rare and possibly led to conditions that triggered the FRB.  The galaxies are so close to one another that they could all fit inside our own Milky Way.

The finding also challenges scientific models of how FRBs are produced and what produces them.

According to lead researcher Alexa Gordon: “Without the Hubble’s imaging, it would still remain a mystery as to whether this FRB originated from one monolithic galaxy or from some type of interacting system. It’s these types of environments — these weird ones — that drive us toward a better understanding of the mystery of FRBs.”

The research has been presented at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in New Orleans, Louisiana, titled “Revealing the Environment of the Most Distant Fast Radio Burst with the Hubble Space Telescope” in a session called “High-Energy Phenomena and Their Origins.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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