Radio signals traced to galaxy billions of light years away

Astronomers have located the source of a fast radio burst (FRB) — a rare and distant release of cosmic radio waves that lasts mere milliseconds — in a galaxy more than three billion light-years from Earth. Scientists at McGill University in Montreal and New York’s Cornell University used the Very Large Array - a multi-antenna telescope in New Mexico - to determine the exact location of the flash, known as FRB 121102.

Before we knew the distance to any FRBs, several proposed explanations for their origins said they could be coming from within or near our own Milky Way galaxy. We now have ruled out those explanations, at least for this FRB.

National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky

Fast radio bursts were first discovered in 2007 using telescope data from 2001, and they still aren’t well understood. Some believe they are from a very dense neutron star with a powerful magnetic field - a “magnetar” - surrounded by debris from a stellar explosion. The source could also be jets of material shooting out from the rim of a “supermassive” black hole.

Finding the host galaxy of this FRB, and its distance, is a big step forward, but we still have much more to do…

Dr Shami Chatterjee, from Cornell University