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Mysterious burst of radio energy

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Mysterious, unidentified burst of radio energy baffles astronomers

The Swinburne University press release is reproduced below:

2.30pm EST, Thursday 27 September 2007
(publication time of the US academic journal Science)

Astronomers at Swinburne University and West Virginia University (WVU) have identified a new mysterious burst of radio energy with the race now on to find more, paving the way for a new field of astronomy to emerge – similar to that achieved when the US military revealed the existence of gamma ray bursts in the 1970’s.

The unexpected discovery was made using observations taken at the CSIRO's radio telescope at Parkes in New South Wales. WVU’s Assistant Professor Duncan Lorimer led the research team which included Swinburne’s Professor Matthew Bailes.

“What we found was a new cosmic occurrence never seen before which makes it a bit more exciting than your average astronomy finding,” Bailes said. “On the basis of our results we estimate that hundreds of similar overwhelming bursts of radio energy should occur over the sky each day, and the race is now on to identify others and find out more about them.”

The discovery was made by chance in February this year when WVU undergraduate student David Narkevic re-analysed data from observations of rotating pulsars made six years ago at the Parkes radio telescope and found the mysterious occurrence, or radio hyperburst as some astronomers are now referring to it, present in three of the beams.

“It was sitting there just booming in - it was very, very bright,” Bailes said.

The radio hyperburst is located millions of light years away and is believed to have originated from a source less than 1500 kilometres in size, lasting for five milliseconds. According to Lorimer the burst of radio waves was strong by astronomical standards.

“The burst appears to have originated from the distant Universe and may have been produced by an exotic event such as the collision of two neutron stars or the last gasp of a black hole as it evaporates completely,” Lorimer said.

As Bailes explained nobody thought that a burst of radio energy of such magnitude could be detected so far away. “Normally the kind of cosmic activity we’re looking for at this distance would be very faint but this was so bright that it saturated the equipment.

“In our own galaxy there are stars that give off bursts of radio energy that appear as bright because they are so close but this one appears to be some imponderable distance across the universe which makes it all the more puzzling because we don’t know what exactly caused it.”

As only a fraction of the sky can be observed at anyone space time using radio telescopes Bailes believes it is possible that radio hyperbursts could be coming in undetected all the time which would open up a new exciting field of astronomy similar to the discovery of gamma ray bursts over 30 years ago.

“There was an interesting class of cosmic activity, now known as the gamma ray bursts, revealed by the military in the 1970’s. They became a new field of astronomy and occupied thousands of scientists for over tens of years trying to identify their characteristics until it was revealed they were very massive exploding stars, with their bursts associated with the creation of the black holes. This mysterious occurrence might be something similar and could trigger a new area of cosmic study.”

Bailes and his team are currently putting data from other surveys through Swinburne’s supercomputer to try and detect more radio hyperbursts. Supercomputer upgrades earmarked for completion next year will assist the astronomers, along with the award of more time at the Parkes telescope.

Two new radio telescopes currently being planned for Western Australia are also expected to help in the quest.

The research will be published in the September 27 issue of the online journal Science Express.

Photos of Professor Bailes with backdrop images of how the radio hyperburst might look can be accessed at
Computer visualisations of the radio hyperburst can be accessed at:
(suitable for broadcast purposes)

The computer visualisation shows a possible explanation for the radio hyperburst: caused by the collision of two neutron stars, the computer generated images show two pulsars rotating in towards each other, eventually colliding and exploding causing the massive release of radio energy.


Media Contact: Heather Crosling, 0416 174 962,


Source: Swinburne University News Release

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The West Virginia University press release is reproduced below:

Thursday, September 27th 2007
Findings published in Science Express

WVU physics team discovers new phenomenon in universe

West Virginia University physics professors and an undergraduate student have discovered a new astronomical phenomenon.

Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin, assistant professors in the Department of Physics in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and David Narkevic, a senior physics and political science student from Philippi, detected a powerful, short-lived burst of radio waves.

The findings of their study appear in today’s edition of the online journal Science Express; they are also available at



physics professor Duncan Lorimer (left)

conducts research with David Narkevic,

a senior physics and political science

student. Lorimer and Narkevic, as well

as WVU physics professor Maura

McLaughlin, are part of a team that

recently discovered a new phenomenon

in the universe, a short, powerful burst

of radio waves from the distant universe.

Photo by: Katie Kline

“This burst appears to have originated from the distant universe and may have been produced by an exotic event such as the collision of two neutron stars or the death throes of an evaporating black hole,” said Lorimer, who also serves as assistant astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Pocahontas County.

The discovery came about as Narkevic was re-analyzing archived data to find new pulsars that had burst sporadically – as opposed to the usual type of these neutron stars which pulsate periodically.

The team looked at observations from the Small Magellanic Cloud recorded by the 210-foot Parkes radio telescope in Australia and surprisingly found the burst outside of the cloud in the distant universe. The cloud is a dwarf galaxy located about 200,000 light years from the Milky Way.

The discovery involved a bit of luck, Narkevic explained, because the survey included observations of the sky surrounding the clouds.

The burst of radio waves, considered a significant finding by astronomical standards, lasted less than five milliseconds. The signal was spread out with higher frequencies arriving at the telescope before the lower frequencies. This effect, called dispersion, is caused by the signal passing through ionized gas in interstellar and intergalactic space.

The amount of dispersion in this newly discovered burst indicates that it likely originated about 3 billion light-years from Earth.

“We’re actively looking for more of these powerful, short bursts in other archival pulsar surveys and hope to resolve the mystery of their origin,” McLaughlin said. “If we can associate these events with galaxies of known distance, the radio dispersion we measure can be used as a powerful new way to determine the amount of material in intergalactic space.”

Using its recent results, the team predicts that hundreds of similar events will occur each day outside the Milky Way.

The team has not found the origin of the phenomenon, but it has a couple of theories: One idea is that it may be part of the energy released when a pair of superdense neutron stars collide and merge.

Another theory suggests that the burst of energy is the last gasp from an evaporating black hole.

“We are primarily a program for researching pulsars, but this discovery potentially opens up a whole new area of study here at WVU,” Lorimer noted. “The discovery parallels the story of gamma-ray bursts, which became a new field of astronomy and occupied the research of many scientists for years trying to identify their characteristics. This mysterious occurrence could trigger a new area of cosmic study that we’re involved in from the beginning.”

In addition to Lorimer, McLaughlin and Narkevic, the research team includes Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University in Australia and Fronefield Crawford of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

The pulsar research program at WVU began in May 2006 when Lorimer and McLaughlin were jointly appointed by the University and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which manages the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities Inc.

The Parkes radio telescope is part of the Australia Telescope, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operation as a National Facility.



Dr. Duncan Lorimer

Department of Physics

Office: (304) 293-3422, ext. 1470

Dr. Maura McLaughlin

Department of Physics

Office: (304) 293-3422, ext. 1475

Source: WVU News Release

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makes you think its a single event and not on purpose. wormhole?

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