Mysterious radio burst helps astronomers map cosmic web

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Sydney, Nov 18 (IANS) A brief burst of radiation that travelled at least a billion light years through space to reach an Australian radio telescope contains detailed information about the cosmic web - the swirling gases and magnetic fields between galaxies -- regarded as the fabric of the universe, say scientists.

The flash, known as a Fast Radio Burst (FRB), was one of the brightest seen since FRBs were first detected in 2001, the researchers said.

All FRBs contained crucial information but this FRB, the 18th detected so far, was unique in the amount of information it contained about the cosmic web, said one of the researchers Ryan Shannon from International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Curtin University, Bentley, Australia.

"FRBs are extremely short but intense pulses of radio waves, each only lasting about a millisecond. Some are discovered by accident and no two bursts look the same," Shannon said.

This particular flash described in a new paper in the journal Science, reached CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Australia mid-last year.

"This particular FRB is the first detected to date to contain detailed information about the cosmic web -- regarded as the fabric of the Universe -- but it is also unique because its travel path can be reconstructed to a precise line of sight and back to an area of space about a billion light years away that contains only a small number of possible home galaxies," Shannon added.

Shannon explained that the vast spaces between objects in the Universe contain nearly invisible gas and a plasma of ionised particles that used to be almost impossible to map, until this pulse was detected.

"This FRB, like others detected, is thought to originate from outside of Earth's own Milky Way galaxy, which means their signal has travelled over many hundreds of millions of light years, through a medium that -- while invisible to our eyes -- can be turbulent and affected by magnetic fields," Shannon said.

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