About a decade ago, astrophysicists discovered an overlooked signal in some old telescope data: a flash of cosmic energy lasting only a few milliseconds. The signal seemed to have experienced a long and bumpy ride to Earth. Its radio waves had become distorted and were spread across a range of frequencies. This suggested that the radiation had traveled for billions of years, slowing down here and there as it sped through lush galaxies and luminous clouds of gas and dust.
Once astrophysicists convinced themselves that the signal wasn’t a glitch or noise in the telescope, they dubbed it a fast radio burst, or FRB. Since the first pulse was encountered in 2007, only 34 others have been found.
But on Wednesday, scientists in Australia announced a remarkable increase in the pace of discovery: Over the past year, they found 20 more FRBs.
The new batch of pulses was detected by an array of radio telescopes at the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory in western Australia, in a desert region designated as a “radio quiet zone” so equipment can pick up cosmic pings from deep space without interference from earthly sources. Thirty-six dishes are spread out across nearly four miles, working together as a net to catch the signals. The results were published Wednesday in Nature.