The Fast Radio Burst: An evolving cosmic mystery

Lecture | February 18 | 11 a.m. | 131 Campbell Hall

 Casey Law, Astronomy

 Science@Cal

This free public talk is presented as part of the monthly Science at Cal Lecture Series

Ten years ago, astronomers discovered a brief and surprisingly bright blast of radio waves that appeared to come from far outside our galaxy. The naive interpretation of that burst argued for a new class of extragalactic object called a “Fast Radio Burst” (FRB). The problem was that the apparent distance of the FRB meant that it was far more powerful than any known radio transient. Could it be a truly new object, such as a cosmic string or an as-yet unseen class of compact object? Or could we be fooled by something more ordinary, such as a microwave oven on the Earth? After that discovery, another 20 FRBs were detected at telescopes around the world, but we still did not know their distance, intrinsic power, or what could generate them.

Casey will present the rapidly evolving story of the FRB. His collaboration has used a new data-intensive technique with the Very Large Array to directly image an FRB burst and measure its distance for the first time. The last decade of study of FRBs offers a rare example of how science deals with new phenomena and adapts to new problems. Happily, the measurement of an FRB distance does not end this story, but instead it opens a host of new ideas and avenues for exploration.

 All Audiences, Alumni, Faculty, Friends of the University, General Public, Staff, Students - Graduate, Students - Prospective, Students - Undergraduate, Cal Parents

 All Audiences, Alumni, Faculty, Friends of the University, General Public, Staff, Students - Graduate, Students - Prospective, Students - Undergraduate, Cal Parents

 science@cal.berkeley.edu