Powerful cosmic radio pulses originating deep within the universe can be utilized to review hidden swimming pools of gasoline cocooning close by galaxies, based on a brand new examine that was printed final month within the journal Nature Astronomy.
So-called quick radio bursts, or FRBs, are pulses of radio waves that sometimes originate tens of millions to billions of light-years away. (Radio waves are electromagnetic radiation like the sunshine we see with our eyes however have longer wavelengths and decrease frequencies). The first FRB was found in 2007, and since then, a whole lot extra have been detected. In 2020, Caltech’s STARE2 instrument (Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2) and Canada’s CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) detected a large FRB that went off in our personal Milky Way galaxy. Those earlier findings helped affirm the speculation that the energetic occasions almost definitely originate from lifeless, magnetized stars referred to as magnetars.
As increasingly FRBs roll in, scientists at the moment are investigating how they can be utilized to review the gasoline that lies between us and the bursts. Specifically, they want to use the FRBs to probe halos of diffuse gasoline that encompass galaxies. As the radio pulses journey towards Earth, the gasoline enveloping the galaxies is predicted to sluggish the waves down and disperse the radio frequencies. In the brand new examine, the analysis crew checked out a pattern of 474 distant FRBs detected by CHIME, which has found essentially the most FRBs up to now. They confirmed that the subset of two dozen FRBs that handed by way of galactic halos had been certainly slowed down greater than non-intersecting FRBs.
“Our study shows that FRBs can act as skewers of all the matter between our radio telescopes and the source of the radio waves,” says lead writer Liam Connor, the Tolman Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associate in Astronomy, who works with assistant professor of astronomy and examine co-author, Vikram Ravi.
“We have used quick radio bursts to shine a lightweight by way of the halos of galaxies close to the Milky Way and measure their hidden material,” Connor says.
The study also reports finding more matter around the galaxies than expected. Specifically, about twice as much gas was found as theoretical models predicted.
All galaxies are surrounded and fed by massive pools of gas out of which they were born. However, the gas is very thin and hard to detect. “These gaseous reservoirs are enormous. If the human eye could see the spherical halo that surrounds the nearby Andromeda galaxy, the halo would appear one thousand times larger than the moon in area,” Connor says.
Researchers have developed different techniques to study these hidden halos. For example, Caltech professor of physics Christopher Martin and his team developed an instrument at the W. M. Keck Observatory called the Keck Cosmic Webb Imager (KCWI) that can probe the filaments of gas that stream into galaxies from the halos.
This new FRB method allows astronomers to measure the total amount of material in the halos. This can be used to help piece together a picture of how galaxies grow and evolve over cosmic time.
“This is just the start,” says Ravi. “As we discover more FRBs, our techniques can be applied to study individual halos of different sizes and in different environments, addressing the unsolved problem of how matter is distributed in the universe.”
In the future, the FRB discoveries are expected to continue streaming in. Caltech’s 110-dish Deep Synoptic Array, or DSA-110, has already detected several FRBs and identified their host galaxies. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), this project is located at Caltech’s Owen Valley Radio Observatory near Bishop, California. In the coming years, Caltech researchers have plans to build an even bigger array, the DSA-2000, which will include 2,000 dishes and be the most powerful radio observatory ever built. The DSA-2000, currently being designed with funding from Schmidt Futures and the NSF, will detect and identify the source of thousands of FRBs per year.
Reference: “The observed impact of galaxy halo gas on fast radio bursts” by Liam Connor and Vikram Ravi, 4 July 2022, Nature Astronomy.