Cosmic flash shows

CSIRO’s Parkes telescope was first to detect the fast radio burst or FRB – © David McClenaghan

A brilliant flash of radio waves from the distant universe has given a unique glimpse of the gas that lies between galaxies. The flash was captured and analysed by a mostly Australian team, using CSIRO’s Parkes telescope and the results were published in the journal Science today.

‘This flash lasted just a third of a millisecond, making it one of the briefest we have seen,’ said research team co-leader Dr Ryan Shannon of CSIRO, the International Research Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and Curtin University.

Called fast radio bursts, or FRBs, such cosmic flashes were discovered with the Parkes ‘scope in 2007. Just 18 have been spotted to date, most with the Parkes. Astronomers think that between 2,000 and 10,000 go off all over the sky every day but their cause is unknown. Coming from a small patch of sky containing only distant galaxies, the flash in question, FRB 150807, is believed to have originated more than a billion light-years away, according to CSIRO in a statement of 18 November.