Astronomers Discover Cosmic Radio Bursts From Beyond the Milky Way

Astronomers announced that they have discovered the first cosmic radio bursts that came from a galaxy other than the Milky Way. While the source of the light bursts is not yet known, likely triggers can include merging or exploding stars.

A radio burst is a quick spike of light from a point in the sky. It is made up of longer wavelengths in the radio portion of the light spectrum. While a single radio burst was detected six years ago, researchers are not sure if it came from the Milky Way or beyond.

There were four radio burst detections in total and NASA announced that they came from billions of light-year away. That guarantees that they did not originate inside our galaxy.

The discovery of the cosmic radio bursts was announced in the July 4 issue of Science. The explanation comes from an international team, including one person from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The observations were made from the Parkes Observatory in Australia.

Dan Thorton, who headed up the new study, stated, “The radio bursts last for just a few milliseconds and the farthest one that was detected was 11 billion light-years away.” The findings will likely open the door into a new area of research and a new class of eruptive cosmic events. Thornton added:

“You have to look at the sky for a very long time to find these. The reason that we’re detecting them now is we’ve simply looked long enough.”

Research team member Simon Johnston added, “Staggeringly, we estimate there could be one of these flashes going off every ten seconds somewhere in the sky.” He went on to say, “With the ability to detect these very fast sources we are opening up a whole new area of astrophysics.”

While the initial paper has been published, the Parkes Observatory is being used to scan for further cosmic radio bursts from outside our galaxy.

[Image via Matthew Strahan]