PerspectiveAstronomy

Radio Bursts, Origin Unknown

Science  05 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6141, pp. 40-41
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240618

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Summary

Analyzing the transient electromagnetic signals pervading the cosmos has led to the identification of a plethora of exotic astrophysical objects. On page 53 of this issue, Thornton et al. (1) report on the discovery of several short radio bursts, only a few milliseconds in duration, from four widely spaced directions during a survey of the sky using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. The bursts are not unlike individual pulses seen from pulsars, neutron stars whose spins regularly sweep a lighthouse-like beam into Earth's direction. Because of their weak emission, the majority of known pulsars reside within the Milky Way or in one of its satellite dwarf galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. By contrast, the new bursts appear to originate from large distances, outside the Milky Way. Truly remarkable is that a burst rate of about 104 bursts per day over the entire sky has been deduced. It is still early days for identifying the astrophysical origins of such common but (so far) rarely detected events.

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