Scientists trace mysterious radio flash to distant galaxy

For the first time, unusual radio signals that long befuddled scientists have been traced to a distant galaxy as much as 6 billion light years away.

These fast radio bursts (FRBs) - spectacular flashes of radio waves originating in the distant universe - emit as much energy in one millisecond as the Sun does in 10,000 years.

They were discovered in 2007 but only 17 bursts have been found, even though astronomers estimate that they might occur 10,000 times a day across the entire sky. Its unclear what causes them.

“Our discovery opens the way to working out what makes these bursts,” said Simon Johnston, head of astrophysics at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and a co-author on the paper on the FRBs in Nature this week.

Not only does the study confirm the existence of FRBs but researchers said it could allow scientists to use them to find matter in the universe that has “gone missing.”

Astronomers believe the contents of the universe are 70 percent dark energy, 25 percent dark matter and 5 percent ordinary matter. But so far, they have only been able to find half as much when adding up the matter in all of the stars, galaxies and hydrogen gas.

Using the burst (FRB 150418) as a tool, the international team was able to ‘weigh’ the universe, or at least the normal matter it contains.

“The good news is our observations and the model match - we have found the missing matter,” Evan Keane, from the SKA Organisation and the lead author on the paper, said. “It’s the first time a fast radio burst has been used to conduct a cosmological measurement.”

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