McGill researchers work to unravel cosmic mystery

MONTREAL -- Fast radio bursts have been a cosmic mystery ever since astronomers first detected the extragalactic pulses about a decade ago.

See Full Article

They're flashes of radio waves lasting less than a thousandth of a second coming from far outside the galaxy.

Nobody knows what they are and where they come from, but new research done partly at Montreal's McGill University solves a piece of the puzzle with the suggestion the phenomenon can repeat.

"It's one of the very rare-in-science 'Eureka!' moments," said Vicky Kaspi, director of the McGill Space Institute.

She said McGill PhD student Paul Scholz made the discovery last November during what was expected to be a routine data analysis project.

While sifting through data gathered from a radio telescope in Puerto Rico, Scholz saw one of the collected signals was particularly bright, as well as being consistent with another burst previously recorded from the same part of the sky.

"I got quite excited when I saw that and knew that it was a big step forward -- a big deal -- right away," he said.

As his colleagues gathered around his computer, Scholz found nine more repetitions, all from the same source.

Kaspi says the discovery is an important step toward discovering exactly what the bursts are and where they come from, with some big implications for humankind's understanding of the universe.

Astronomers know the bursts are quite common (occurring possibly thousands of times per day), travel vast cosmological distances and have a very powerful source.

But because they seemed to be one-time events, Kaspi said they were commonly believed to have been created by "cataclysmic events," such as exploding or colliding stars. However, such an event couldn't cause repeated bursts like the ones Scholz saw, she added.

Now, Kaspi and her fellow astronomers are excitedly considering new possibilities, such as the waves coming from a magnetar -- a highly magnetized neutron star.

The astrophysicist says there are some competing theories, including a study recently published in Nature magazine that seems to contradict their findings. It's also possible the pulses can be created by multiple kinds of sources, she said.

Since the bursts travel long distances between galaxies, figuring out what they are could teach researchers about how the universe evolved.

"It will help us understand how galaxies formed, what's in the vicinity of galaxies and what's in the material between them," she said. "We could learn a lot about the universe from these events... but we have a lot of work left to do."

Both Kaspi and Scholz hope a high-powered telescope called CHIME that is being built in Canada will be able to detect many more of the bursts and eventually lead scientists down the path to solving the mystery.

In the meantime, they'll keep watching the skies.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Trump to issue executive order rolling back Obama climate change policies

    Tech & Science CBC News
    President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday aimed at moving forward on his campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's plan to curb global warming. The order will suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. Source
  • 'It's devastating': Documentary reveals 'streams' of water pollution from jean industry

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Those jeans you pull on before running out to the corner store were produced by one of the most toxic industries on the planet, according to a new documentary that explores how clothing manufacturers are poisoning the world's water supply. Source
  • Got camera? Facebook adds more Snapchat-like features

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Facebook is adding more Snapchat-like features to its app. The company says it wants to let people's cameras "do the talking" as more people are posting photos and videos instead of blocks of text. Source
  • 2 Canadians win Gairdner Awards for contributions to medical science

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TORONTO -- Two Canadian researchers are among the winners of this year's Gairdner Awards, which recognize some of the most significant medical discoveries made by scientists around the globe. Dr. Antoine Hakim, a professor emeritus of neurology at the University of Ottawa, and Dr. Source
  • Samsung to sell refurbished recalled Note 7 phones

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Samsung announced Monday it would sell some Note 7 smartphones that were recalled for safety reasons as refurbished devices, in an effort to manage its stockpile in an "environmentally friendly" manner. The South Korean giant, the world's largest smartphone maker, said it would sell Note 7s as "refurbished phones or rental phones," after consultations with regulators in various markets. Source
  • Flow reduced in leaking underwater Alaska gas pipeline

    Tech & Science CTV News
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Natural gas spewing into Alaska's Cook Inlet from a ruptured underwater pipeline has been reduced by about half after owners lowered pressure in the line. The pipeline carries gas from onshore to four production platforms owned by Hilcorp Alaska LLC. Source
  • NOAA retires Otto, Matthew as tropical storm names

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Lailoni Kent, 8, of Lake Worth, screams when the pull of the wave was stronger than she thought while playing on the beach and getting photos with her family on Lantana Beach while Hurricane Matthew created big waves, Thursday, Oct. Source
  • 'Australia's own Jurassic Park': Scientists find major dinosaur footprint site

    Tech & Science CTV News
    An 'unprecedented' 21 different types of dinosaur tracks have been found on a stretch of Australia's remote coastline, scientists said Monday, dubbing it the nation's Jurassic Park. Palaeontologists from the University of Queensland and James Cook University said it was the most diverse such discovery in the world, unearthed in rocks up to 140 millions years old in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Source
  • Pollution talks start after dead dolphin found in NY river

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. -- The death of a dolphin in a New York river that empties into Long Island sound has raised questions about water pollution. Officials say the dolphin was found in the Hutchinson River in Mount Vernon Friday afternoon. Source
  • EPA chief: Trump to undo Obama's environmental protection plan

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump in the coming days will sign a new executive order that unravels his predecessor's sweeping plan to curb global warming, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday. EPA chief Scott Pruitt said the executive order to be signed Tuesday will undo the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, an environmental regulation that restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. Source