Detection of FRB 180301 with the Breakthrough Listen backend instrument at the Parkes Radio Telescope. The top panel shows the de-dispersed pulse while the bottom panel shows the frequency structure with the pulse dispersed across ~340 MHz of the observed band.
During our observations at the Parkes radio telescope yesterday, we detected a mysterious and fleeting phenomena known as a Fast Radio Burst (FRBs). As we did when we caught the only FRB known to repeat, FRB 121102, in the act, we've written up initial details in an Astronomer's Telegram to encourage follow-up observations with other facilities, and will look at the data in more details in the coming weeks.
While astronomers don't know all that much about FRBs--only tens of bursts have ever been detected--we can infer some intriguing details about them. Firstly, they exhibit a tell-tale sweep in frequency that suggests they are incredibly far away: billions of light years. FRBs travel billions of years to get to us, and only last a few milliseconds, suggesting the emission mechanism is short-lived. For us to detect them clearly after such a long journey, they have also to be insanely bright.
What can produce such bursts? We don't know yet, but leading theories involve neutron stars and cataclysmic events. There's also a neat theory that they are due to interstellar extraterrestrial travel. We'd love that to be the case, but have to rule out all plausible astrophysical theories first!
Our observations should help solve the mystery of FRBs. The Breakthrough Listen digital systems recorded the raw voltages from this new FRB, which will let us look at the burst in finer detail than has been done in the past.
If you'd like to access the data from these observations (along with instructions for reading the technical "filterbank" format), they are available here.