PerspectiveAstronomy

A fast radio boom

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Science  09 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1230-1231
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag1600

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Summary

The mystery of the fast radio bursts (FRBs) continues to deepen. First reported in 2007 (1), FRBs are a few-millisecond-duration flashes of radio waves that appear to be coming from far outside our Milky Way galaxy, possibly from cosmological distances. Astronomers estimate, from the nearly two dozen FRBs seen thus far, that these events occur several thousands of times per day across the whole sky, implying that the phenomenon is surprisingly common in the universe. Of those published, only one has been seen to repeat (2). Although there are presently more published theories on the physical nature of FRBs than there are published sources, the origin of FRBs is still a curious cosmic conundrum. On page 1249 of this issue, Ravi et al. (3) report on the brightest FRB yet detected, FRB 150807, and on its utility for placing constraints on properties of the intergalactic medium. Using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia, the team observed an “exceptionally intense” FRB, weighing in at a booming 120 janskys [the unit of 1 jansky, a favorite of radio astronomers, honors American Karl Jansky (1905–1950), one of the fathers of the field, and amounts to 10−26 watts per square meter per hertz of bandwidth].