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Decoding Space Bursts

from MSN

Mysterious radio bursts from space may soon have an explanation

by Seth Shostak

The CHIME telescope
© CHIME The CHIME telescope

Just when you think you’ve cataloged all the beasts of the cosmos, a new one howls to us from the celestial savanna. Fast radio bursts are now one of the hottest topics in astronomy. In less time than an eye blink, these mysterious objects can release enough energy to power the world for three centuries.

And the race is on to figure out what the heck they are.

Last month, a consortium of five dozen astronomers reported the discovery of eight new bursts that may lead to an answer. The objects were found with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME. This unusual-looking radio telescope, about the size of a football field, consists of four metal mesh cylinders — like skateboard half-pipes — that collect and focus incoming radio waves. CHIME is in a sparsely populated, mountainous region of British Columbia about 30 miles north of the U.S. border.

While CHIME is leading the pack today in discovering radio bursts, the first such burst was found a dozen years ago by a West Virginia University astronomer sitting at his desk in Morgantown. Duncan Lorimer was combing through data obtained from a radio telescope in Parkes, Australia — half a world away — when he noticed a short burp of static, the kind of signal you’d produce by firing up a transmitter and then turning it off a few milliseconds later.

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Posted on September 8, 2019 by Editor

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