Deep Outerspace
Galaxies in deep space are seen in a 2005 handout photo from NASA. A giant hole in the Universe is devoid of galaxies, stars and even lacks dark matter, astronomers said on Thursday. REUTERS

Scientists believe that the fast cosmic or radio bursts, seen several times a day as flashes in the Earth’s skies, are actually clues to their origins. These mysterious bursts usually last a few milliseconds, and according to an online research report in the Nature, originate way beyond the Milky Way.

The latest such blast of cosmic radio waves was thought to have originated in the constellation Aquarius, some 6 billion light-years from Earth. What was more interesting, however, was the discovery that these waves had, on their way to Earth, encountered dense plasma and strong magnetic fields, according to the findings of astrophysicist Kiyoshi Masui, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, and his colleagues.

The team was studying the fast radio burst, FRB 110523, which they found in some data recorded in 2011 by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Science News has reported. The researchers found that the magnetic fields and the plasma density the signals ran into were much more intense than those contained in the Milky Way or in the intergalactic space. “Our main result is that the source of the burst is surrounded by a region with a magnetic field and dense gas, like that of a star-forming nebula, a supernova remnant, or galaxy’s central region,” Masui is quoted saying.

Astrophysicists believe these findings have brought them closer to solving the mystery of these enigmatic radio flashes. Fast radio bursts (FRBs), as it is called, were first announced in 2007 by Duncan Lormier, a West Virginia University astrophysicist. Lormier and his colleagues made this discovery while studying data from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. They concluded that the burst they detected had come from a galaxy a few billion light-years away.

“It could be that there are multiple populations out there,” Lorimer says, reacting to the latest findings. “Researchers may soon find them, thanks to ramped-up searches using radio telescope arrays and opportunistic multi-wavelength observations with space telescopes.” “What’s clear,” he says, “is that the whole field of FRBs is now exploding with possibilities.”

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