Research Highlight

Fast radio burst detected in a luminous galaxy

doi:10.1038/nindia.2019.86 Published online 8 July 2019

In a massive luminous galaxy that is moving away from the solar system, astrophysicists have detected an extremely short-lived single pulse of fast radio burst (FRB)1. Such bursts — brief emissions of radio waves — could potentially be used as clean probes to better understand the properties of subatomic particles such as neutrons and protons.

First discovered in 2007, FRBs are millisecond-duration bursts of radio waves located in galactic regions beyond the Milky Way.

They are thought to originate from superluminous supernovae that may shine extra bright because of the birth of a neutron star with strong magnetic fields – a magnetar – that spins on millisecond time scales. The magnetar born in the stellar explosion could, even a decade later, power brief radio bursts such as FRBs. Their exact nature and origin, however, remains largely unexplored. 

An international research team, including a scientist from the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, scanned the sky using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), a 36-antenna radio telescope specially designed to locate FRBs. They also used optical telescopes for this. They detected a non-repeating single pulse of FRB in a spiral galaxy that has low rates of star formation. This galaxy also has interstellar dust, which attenuates the emission of visible light.  

FRBs, the researchers say, can potentially be used to detect, map and study the intergalactic medium since they can disperse and scatter through any ionised material. Besides, they can shed light on celestial events such as superluminous supernovae and gamma-ray bursts.


1. Bannister, K. W. et al. A single fast radio burst localized to a massive galaxy at cosmological distance. Science (2019) doi: 10.1126/science.aaw5903