20-23 July 2023 Jodrell Bank Observatory

What are these Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts? – Spoiler Alert: Not Aliens

Ben Stappers is a Professor of Astrophysics in the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics where he leads the Pulsars & Time Domain Astrophysics research group. His primary research interests are radio pulsars, neutron stars and rapid radio transients. He is a member of the European Pulsar Timing Array (EPTA) and international Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA) projects which combine large radio telescopes, including the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank, to precisely time the flashes from radio pulsars (the ultra-dense remnants of exploded stars) in an attempt to detect long wavelength gravitational waves. These waves are thought to have been generated by processes in the early Universe, either inflation, cosmic strings or binary supermassive blackholes have been proposed.

Talk: What are these Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts? – Spoiler Alert: Not Aliens

In 2007 Astronomers discovered a very bright burst of radio emission which lasted just a few milliseconds which originated far outside of our own galaxy. The extreme brightness and very short duration of these Fast Radio Bursts indicates that the source must be highly energetic and mostly likely associated with a black hole or neutron star. Another possibility is that they are caused by some cataclysmic event, like the collapse of a neutron star to form a black hole or the merger of two neutron stars. There have even been some suggestions that they could be from extra-terrestrials. As these bursts travel great distances through space they are potentially great probes of the material and space between us and their origin helping us to understand more about the missing mass and energy in the Universe. There are now dozens of these bursts known and the race is on to find many more with new and existing telescopes around the world. I will discuss recent discoveries and possible origins of the bursts and our own searches using the Lovell and MeerKAT telescopes.