A Population of Fast Radio Bursts at Cosmological Distances

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Science  05 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6141, pp. 53-56
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236789

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Mysterious Radio Bursts

It has been uncertain whether single, short, and bright bursts of radio emission that have been observed are celestial or terrestrial in origin. Thornton et al. (p. 53; see the Perspective by Cordes) report the detection of four nonrepeating radio transient events with millisecond duration in data from the 64-meter Parkes radio telescope in Australia. The properties of these radio bursts indicate that they had their origin outside our galaxy, but it is not possible to tell what caused them. Because the intergalactic medium affects the characteristics of the bursts, it will be possible to use them to study its properties.


Searches for transient astrophysical sources often reveal unexpected classes of objects that are useful physical laboratories. In a recent survey for pulsars and fast transients, we have uncovered four millisecond-duration radio transients all more than 40° from the Galactic plane. The bursts’ properties indicate that they are of celestial rather than terrestrial origin. Host galaxy and intergalactic medium models suggest that they have cosmological redshifts of 0.5 to 1 and distances of up to 3 gigaparsecs. No temporally coincident x- or gamma-ray signature was identified in association with the bursts. Characterization of the source population and identification of host galaxies offers an opportunity to determine the baryonic content of the universe.

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