Friday, September 28, 2007

Friends in high places

I'm so proud!

My friends Dunc Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin just published a discovery that, according to one press release, "could open up a new field in astrophysics."

What they found was this: A radio burst so strong, so short, and so distant that they don't know quite what it is. It could be the radio rebound from a neutron star collision, the "last gasp" of an evaporating black hole, or some other exotic event that we haven't even thought of yet.

The data set that captured the burst was actually six years old and had already been through the data-ringer once. But the first time, the team was only looking for repeating pulses--that is, for pulsars. It wasn't until David Narkevik, an undergrad at West Virginia University, took a second pass at the data that the isolated burst was uncovered.

So far, the burst is the only known radio event of its kind. The next one might be discovered in other archival pulsar surveys, or we might have to wait for a new facility like Australia's SKA Pathfinder, a testbed for the planned Square Kilometer Array, to come on line.

The burst was observed with Australia's Parkes radio telescope.

Image credit: Lorimer et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF. Greyscale represents visible light; contours are radio data

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