UKZN Astronomer’s Software Examines Radiation in Outer Space
UKZN Astrophysicist Professor Jonathan Sievers and a team of local and international astronomers have discovered a new Fast Radio Burst (FRB) that has provided the clearest view yet on what these enigmatic events might be.
FRBs put out enormous amounts of energy during their brief lives, only one thousandth of a second long. During that instant, they are among the brightest things in the radio sky. Only a handful have been discovered so far, and theories abound about their sources, ranging from stars inside our Milky Way galaxy to explosions on the other side of the universe.
In order to create this detailed examination of FRBs, the team of astronomers analysed 650 hours of observations from the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia. The resulting 40 terabytes of data were analysed using extremely sophisticated software developed by Sievers and his colleague, Dr Kiyoshi Masui, an Astronomer with the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. The software allowed for the data to be analysed in a much shorter time than what was previously possible.
The results of the study included the detection of a new FRB, named FRB 110523, and information regarding its origin. The data showed for the first time that the environment of the burst is magnetised, and that FRB 110523 came from well outside the Milky Way.
Sievers worked with 2 other UKZN astronomers for this study: postdoctoral researcher Dr Tabitha Voytek and PhD student Mr Apratim Ganguly. Voytek said: The results of the study demonstrate the versatility of radio astronomy, which will play a role in future radio telescope development.’
Said Ganguly: ‘I am grateful to Professor Sievers for introducing me to radio astronomy. This project was fascinating.’
The paper describing this discovery, co-authored by Sievers, Voytek, and Ganguly, appeared in the journal Nature in December last year.
‘This event gives us our clearest view yet on where fast radio bursts come from,’ said Sievers. ‘It's exciting to see that new ways of analysing data can make it easy to go back and search a truly massive dataset for extremely rare events. This bodes well for the Square Kilometre Array and its South African precursors.’
Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit