Astronomers don’t know what they are, or where they come from, but big blasts from space have opened up a new field of research.
In a mature science like deep space astronomy, it seems hard to discover something brand new. But ten years ago, Nature reports, an astronomer saw a burst of radio waves lasting only 5 thousandths of a second. What was it? Since then, some 75 of these “fast radio bursts” (FRBs) have been detected. In her article “Astronomers grapple with new era of fast radio bursts,” Elizabeth Gibney discusses a recent conference in Aspen, Colorado that laid out a strategy for studying the phenomenon. If FRBs are indeed extragalactic—as the majority of astronomers believe—they must be enormously powerful.
One of the most perplexing phenomena in astronomy has come of age. The fleeting blasts of energetic cosmic radiation of unknown cause, now known as fast radio bursts (FRBs), were first detected a decade ago. At the time, many astronomers dismissed the seemingly random blasts as little more than glitches. And although key facts, such as what causes them, are still largely a mystery, FRBs are now accepted as a genuine class of celestial signal and have spawned a field of their own.
It may seem to some people in the era of the Hubble Space Telescope that astronomers had found everything there is to be found in deep space, and the rest is fine-tuning. But FRBs follow in a long line of mysterious objects never before imagined: radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, neutron stars, blazars, magnetars, and gamma-ray bursts. As astronomers begin to build more sensitive detectors to study these enigmatic bursts of energy, no one knows where FRB astronomy will lead in the next decade. It may seem to some people in the era of the Hubble Space Telescope that astronomers had found everything there is to be found in deep space, and the rest is fine-tuning. But FRBs follow in a long line of mysterious objects never before imagined: radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, neutron stars, blazars, magnetars, and gamma-ray bursts. As astronomers begin to build more sensitive detectors to study these enigmatic bursts of energy, no one knows where FRB astronomy will lead in the next decade.
Other Astronomical Observations and Mysteries
The dawn of a new era for Supernova 1987a (Phys.org). In 1987, astronomers were delighted to have an opportunity to observe one of the nearest supernovas in centuries. The debris of SN 1987a, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, has been expanding for 30 years now. The article contains new images from Hubble of the ring of light reflected off the expanding dust cloud that has reached a light-year across.
Astronomers find faintest early galaxies yet, probe how the early universe lit up (Phys.org). This article by Rebecca Johnson discusses the difficulty of finding faint galaxies at the limit of Hubble’s detection. The “Frontier Fields Project” has detected galaxy clusters 100 times fainter than those seen in the Hubble Deep Field, finding complex structure just 1 billion years after the big bang. “Their observations showed that these faint galaxies are extremely numerous,” Johnson says.
If atoms are mostly empty space, why do objects look and feel solid? (The Conversation). Roger Barlow, a physicist, explains this counter-intuitive phenomenon. Find out why he uses a photo of starlings to make his point.
The universe is stranger than we can imagine. Beware of any scientist who boasts overmuch about what science understands. Big-bang cosmology is prime example. To see why, obtain Bob Enyart’s comprehensive DVD, “Evidence Against the Big Bang,” available also in download format.
For those interested in questions in Biblical cosmology, Spike Psarris just published a discussion of starlight and time on his Creation Astronomy website. In “Distant starlight: Does it disprove Biblical creation?, Psarris describes seven assumptions behind the claim that light needed billions of years to get to earth. In the process, he offers alternative assumptions that reveal solutions for rapid light travel time. He ends by showing that starlight and time is just as much a problem for big bang theory, so it is hypocritical for big-bangers to criticize Biblical cosmology on that basis.