It was over in milliseconds, but the Parkes radio telescope in Australia was still able to see for the first time a "fast radio burst" happen live.
These short, sharp flashes of radio waves were first discovered in 2007, the Royal Astronomical Society says, and astronomers are still trying to determine what exactly they are and where they come from; they have generally been discovered "weeks or months or even more than a decade after they happened," PhD candidate Emily Petroff said in a statement.
After making follow-up observations, it was determined that the phenomenon could be caused by imploding neutron stars or giant flares of magnetars taking place up to 5.5 billion light-years away — meaning a radio burst could give off as much energy in a few milliseconds as the sun does in a day. With still more questions than answers, the team is waiting for more information. "We've set the trap, now we just have to wait for another burst to fall into it," Petroff said.
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