Cosmic Sleuthing

Astronomers who detected a mysterious, fleeting radio signal from space finally figured out where it came from.

The radio burst, which only lasted for one millisecond, originated from the outer reaches of a distant galaxy, from which it spent 4 billion years traveling to Earth. In this case, astronomers at Chile's Gemini South telescope were able to track the radio signal's origins using a finely-tuned array of antennas, according to research published in the journal Science. The scientists think their approach could help pinpoint other signals from outer space.


The radio burst was first detected by Australia's Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope, but it was a sensitive array of 36 antennas at Gemini that let the astronomers actually trace the signal back to its roots.

The radio signal hit each antenna at a slightly different point in time, indicating which direction it was traveling, according to the research. All scientists had to do was trace the line.

"From these tiny time differences — just a fraction of a billionth of a second — we identified the burst’s home galaxy," Swinburne University of Technology scientist Adam Deller said in a press release.

Suburban Commuter

The measurements at Gemini were precise enough to not only track down the galaxy from which the radio burst originated, but also the specific region within the galaxy, per the press release.

"We found that the [radio burst] was located away from the galaxy's core, out in the 'galactic suburbs,'" said Deller.

That level of precision could help astronomers build a better 3D map of the universe, the astronomers said in the release, as plotting the path of the radio signal and measuring how long it took to travel could give clues as to what it had to pass through along the way.

READ MORE: A single fast radio burst localized to a massive galaxy at cosmological distance [Science]

More on space signals: AI Just Detected 72 Radio Bursts That Could Come From Aliens

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