Much like Dark Matter and Dark Energy, Fast Radio Burst (FRBs) are one of those crazy cosmic phenomena that continue to mystify astronomers. These incredibly bright flashes register only in the radio band of the electromagnetic spectrum, occur suddenly, and last only a few milliseconds before vanishing without a trace. As a result, observing them with a radio telescope is rather challenging and requires extremely precise timing.
Hence why the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in British Columbia launched the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) in 2017. Along with their partners at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Perimeter Institute, and multiple universities, CHIME detected more than 500 FRBs in its first year of operation (and more than 1000 since it commenced operations)!
On November 1st, 1961, a number of prominent scientists converged on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, for a three-day conference. A year earlier, this facility had been the site of the first modern SETI experiment (Project Ozma), where famed astronomers Frank Drake and Carl Sagan used the Green Bank telescope (aka. “Big Ear”) to monitor two nearby Sun-like stars – Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti.
While unsuccessful, Ozma became a focal point for scientists who were interested in this burgeoning field known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). As a result, Drake and Sagan were motivated to hold the very first SETI conference, wherein the subject of looking for possible extraterrestrial radio signals would be discussed. In preparation for the meeting, Drake prepared the following heuristic equation:
N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L
This would come to be known as the “Drake Equation,” which is considered by many to be one of the most renowned equations in the history of science. On the sixtieth anniversary of its creation, John Gertz – a film producer, amateur astronomer, board-member with BreakThrough Listen, and the three-term former chairman of the board for the SETI Institute – argues in a recent paper that a factor by factor reconsideration is in order.
It’s widely known by now that the “dark side” of the moon, made famous by Pink Floyd, isn’t actually dark. It gets as much sunlight as the side that is tidally locked facing Earth. However, it is dark in one very important way – it isn’t affected by radio signals emanating from Earth itself. What’s more, it’s even able to see radio waves that don’t make it down to Earth’s surface, such as those associated with the cosmic “Dark Ages” when the universe was only a few hundred million years old. Those two facts are the main reasons the far side of the moon has continually been touted as a potential location for a very large radio telescope. Now, a project sponsored by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has received more funding to further explore this intriguing concept.
The University of Colorado Boulder and Lunar Resources Inc. have just won NASA funding to study the possibility of building a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon. The project, called FarView, would harvest building materials from the Lunar surface itself, and use robotic rovers to construct a massive, intricate network of wires and antennas across 400 square kilometers. When complete, FarView would allow radio astronomers to observe the sky in low-frequency radio wavelengths with unprecedented clarity.
Buried under the ice at the South Pole is a neutrino observatory called IceCube. Every now and then IceCube will detect a particularly high-energy neutrino from space. Some of them are so high energy we aren’t entirely sure what causes them. But a new article points to quasars as the culprit.
In 1964 two Aerobee suborbital rockets were launched with the goal of mapping x-ray sources in the sky. Each rocket contained a directed Geiger counter, so that as the rocket rotated at the peak of its trajectory to measure the direction of x-ray sources. The project discovered eight x-ray sources, including a particularly bright one in the constellation Cygnus. It became known as Cygnus X-1.
The Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) is a different kind of radio telescope. Although radio light has the longest wavelengths and lowest frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, much of radio astronomy has focused on the higher frequency end. Observatories such as ALMA study radio light at frequencies of hundreds of Gigahertz, and the VLA studies the fifty Gigahertz range, LOFAR captures radio signals below 250 Megahertz, which is in the range of the lowest radio frequencies that can be seen from Earth.
As we continue to search for dark matter particles, one thing is very clear: they cannot be any of the elementary particles we’ve discovered so far. The particles would need to have mass, but interact with light only weakly. Of the known particles, neutrinos fit that description, but neutrinos have a tiny mass, and aren’t nearly enough to explain dark matter. Some other kind of particle must make up the majority of dark matter.
Finding planets out in the Universe is pretty hard. I say this despite the fact that two planets in Earth’s skies are aligning tomorrow to form one of the brightest objects seen in hundreds of years. But while the brilliant Jupiter and Saturn are always visible to the naked eye, Neptune wasn’t directly observed until 1846 despite being in our own solar system. We didn’t start discovering planets outside the solar system until 150 years after Neptune. Like Neptune, we find them (though indirectly), through visible light. However an international team of researchers may have just made the first detection of an exoplanet through radio emissions created by the planet’s aurora.