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The Mystery of the Intergalactic Radio Bursts

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  • derhexerus
    URL to an interesting article that appeared in Time http://science.time.com/2013/07/05/the-mystery-of-the-intergalactic-radio-bu rsts/?hpt=hp_t3 Now, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2013
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      URL to an interesting article that appeared in Time

      Now, the astronomers should avoid hooking up the computer that is analyzing
      the signals to a fully equipped biochemical factory.


      (Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change)

      First few paragraphs
      It’s a recurring theme in _astronomy_ (http://topics.time.com/astronomy/) :
      observers see a blast of energy out in the cosmos, scratch their heads in
      confusion for a while, and finally uncover the existence of something
      entirely surprising and new. It happened with the quasars (now known to be
      gigantic burps from black holes swallowing hot gas), the pulsars (fast-spinning
      neutron stars sending out blips of radio noise hundreds of times every
      second), and even the Big Bang itself, first seen as a stream of microwaves
      slamming into _Earth_ (http://topics.time.com/earth/) from all directions,
      nearly 14 billion years after the event itself.
      Now it may be happening again. Back in 2007, astronomers detected a burst
      of radio noise, lasting maybe a second or so, the cause of which was totally
      unclear. There was reason to suspect it came from beyond the Milky Way,
      and must be extremely powerful to be visible at all. But it never repeated,
      and neither did a second, similar blast seen in 2011, making it very tough
      to puzzle out what was going on. Maybe both events were just some sort of
      rare fluke.
      (MORE: _The Great, Belching Black Hole — Eats Gas, Burps X-rays_
      /#ixzz2YDAP5TAh) )
      But a new paper in Science makes that seem very unlikely. Using the giant
      Parkes radio telescope in _Australia_ (http://topics.time.com/australia/) ,
      astronomers have recorded four more of these mysterious bursts, and when
      the scientists extrapolated across the entire sky, they concluded that
      perhaps 10,000 of these blasts are popping off every day, all over the heavens. “
      It’s still a mystery what they are,” says lead author Dan Thornton, of the
      University of Manchester, in the U.K. “But at least it’s not a mystery
      that they exist.” In fact, Thornton and his co-authors claim that the
      observations reveal what he calls a “new cosmological population” of energy
      blasts, whose true nature is unknown.
      At the time of the first observations, back in 2007, there was some talk
      that the original burst might have come from inside the Milky Way. There was
      a way to test that proposition: radio outbursts generally come in a range
      of frequencies — channels, essentially, like those on a radio dial. As they
      speed through the empty spaces in our galaxy, the waves run into loose
      electrons that linger between the stars. The electrons slow the radio waves
      down a bit, with the lowest-frequency waves slowing the most. A radio burst
      that was emitted in a fraction of a second might be received over a longer
      period, depending on how far the burst had been traveling, and through what
      part of the Milky Way.
      (VIDEO: _Looking Through the World’s Largest Telescope_
      (http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,2407450445001_2144331,00.html) )
      The first and second bursts were indeed spread out, or dispersed, this way,
      and the first, especially, seemed to be too dispersed to have originated
      in our own galaxy. But the second was marginal, leaving astronomers stuck.
      The four new blasts, however, were unmistakable. “The dispersion is so high,”
      says Thornton, “that from what we know, they could not have come from the
      Milky Way.”
      Instead, he says, he and his co-authors estimate that whatever is sending
      out these radio bursts is located between five and10 billion light-years
      away — a substantial fraction of the way out to the edge of the visible
      (MORE: _Meet the Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny Galaxy_
      (http://science.time.com/2013/06/13/meet-the-itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-galaxy/) )
      So that’s the “where” of the mystery, but nobody has a good idea yet about
      the “what.” Some of the possibilities of the blasts cause include:
      evaporating black holes (something predicted by Stephen Hawking), or giant black
      holes eating neutron stars. Or, writes Cornell astronomer James Cordes,
      tantalizingly, in a commentary also appearing in Science, “they could
      represent an entirely new class of source.”
      The only way to figure it out is to follow up on the radio bursts with
      observations by visible-light, X-ray and other telescopes to try and get a
      glimpse of whatever’s going on from another perspective. That’s how
      astronomers figured out the inner workings of _gamma-ray bursts_
      (http://science.time.com/2013/05/09/gamma/) , which turned out to be a special kind of
      _exploding star_ (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2106904,00.html)
      and just as with gamma-ray bursts, it will be important to do those
      follow-ups quickly. “We discovered these events about a year after they happened,
      ” says Thornton, by which time any lingering visible or X-ray glow from
      the triggering event would long since have faded. “But now we’re working on
      real-time alerts.”

      Read more:

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