Fast radio bursts are mysterious radio sources whose nature is not yet known, although they are probably neutron stars. We have just discovered the most distant star known to date and its enormous light power is literally illuminating the mystery of the lost protons of the Big Bang.
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For about ten years we have been talking regularly about fast radio bursts (FRBs), also called “Lorimer bursts” after the name of their discoverer. They generally appear as transient signals in which the equivalent of all the energy emitted by the Sun during a year in the visible region appears to be released in the radio region in a few milliseconds at most. Their discovery was originally made thanks to new analyzes of archived data collected by the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. For a while it wasn’t clear whether this was something new or just false signals. But it was finally proven that these were actually new radio sources outside the Milky Way.
There has been much speculation and hope that the FRBs could hide new types of stars, suggesting new leaps in knowledge. Finally, the discovery of pulsars and neutron stars has opened the door to the discovery of gravitational waves, so the new astronomy associated with it will potentially provide us with insights into new physics and breakthroughs in cosmology, as perhaps illustrated by the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA) collaboration recently taken place.
The Hunt for FRBs in Canada. To get a reasonably accurate French translation, click on the white rectangle at the bottom right. English subtitles should then appear. Then click on the nut to the right of the rectangle, then click on “Subtitles” and finally “Auto-translate”. Select “French”. © Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
30 years of radiation from the sun, emitted in less than a millisecond
Today, several radio telescopes study FRBs, but we are also trying to locate them in galaxies once we know their coordinates on the celestial dome with sufficient precision using these instruments. Using more traditional telescopes, we can then see if we can associate the radio source with a visible or infrared source using instruments such as the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT). In fact, this just happened with the fast radio burst FRB 20220610A, which was discovered using the Askap radio telescope in Australia in June last year.
ESO has just announced in a press release accompanying a publication in the prestigious journal Science that FRB 20220610A is the most distant fast radio burst discovered to date. It occurred about 8 billion years ago and pulverized 50% of the previous distance record. We also learn that it was particularly powerful, releasing in less than a millisecond the equivalent of the energy the Sun emits in 30 years at all wavelengths.
In the ESO press release, Stuart Ryder, astronomer at Macquarie University in Australia and co-lead author of the published study, explains: “Using the Askap satellite dish, we were able to pinpoint the origin of the launch.” We then searched with ESO’s VLT in Chile for the source galaxy and found that it was older and more distant than any other FRB source discovered to date and was likely within a small group of galaxies that were in the process of merging. »
FRBs as probes of intergalactic matter
However, according to Ryan Shannon, a professor at Swinburne Technological University in Australia, this discovery may enable exploration of the layers of light in the cosmos by helping to find the famous protons lost in the Big Bang. The researcher therefore recalls: “If we count the amount of normal matter in the universe – the atoms that make up all of us – we find that more than half of what should be there today is missing.” We leave assumes that the missing matter is hiding in the space between galaxies, but it may be so hot and diffuse that it cannot be seen using conventional techniques. Fast radio bursts detect this ionized material. Even in almost completely empty space, they can “see” all the electrons, allowing us to measure the amount of matter between galaxies.”
What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? How do planets form? And is there life there? To answer the biggest questions, you need the biggest machine. The largest scientific facility ever built by humanity: two telescopes towering over the horizon in remote parts of Australia and South Africa. To get a reasonably accurate French translation, click on the white rectangle at the bottom right. English subtitles should then appear. Then click on the nut to the right of the rectangle, then click on “Subtitles” and finally “Auto-translate”. Select “French”. © SKAO Communications Office
In the near future, the Square Kilometer Array collaboration will provide the noosphere with two impressive arrays of giant radio telescopes in South Africa and Australia that will be able to detect thousands of FRBs at large distances from the Milky Way. ESO is also preparing to launch its Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which will make it possible to see the galaxies likely associated with these FRBs, largely surpassing current records.
We will then be able to specify even more precisely the value and distribution of the missing baryonic matter, the amount of which is estimated from calculations of the original nucleosynthesis of the Big Bang. Unfortunately, Hubert Reeves is no longer around to see these impending discoveries.
The ESO press release adds on this topic that, as in the case of FRB 20220610A, we can use what we now call the Macquart relationship, discovered by the late Australian astronomer Jean-Pierre Macquart in 2020, which allows an estimate , with the properties of FRB radiation, the amount of diffuse gas between galaxies, which can accurately explain the loss of protons in the Big Bang.