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Cooper Lecture by Keith Bannister: Mysterious bursts from half-way across the universe help astronomers find missing matter

Principal Research Engineer
CSIRO, Australia


Fast radio bursts are bursts of radio waves that come from objects galaxies far, far away. In roughly a millisecond they release as much energy as the Sun in 80 years. They’re interesting for two reasons. First, we don’t know exactly what kind of object generates such enormously bright bursts, or how they do it. But also, we can use bursts as tools measure the properties of the matter between the Earth and the source object. This is useful, because until recently, half of the normal matter in the Universe remained unaccounted for. Using a radio telescope in Western Australia, we have found and localised a handful of bursts, and used their properties to find that half of the normal matter in the Universe resides in the gas between galaxies, the so-called “cosmic web”.