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WVU helps find origins of mysterious, ultra-powerful bursts in space


You can’t see it, but billions of light years away cosmic flash bulbs are popping and no one knows why.

Fast radio bursts, brilliant and intense flashes of energy that blaze for a millisecond and then disappear, have puzzled scientists for years, but  West Virginia University astronomers are helping to find the celestial bread crumbs that will help lead scientists to answers about this mysterious phenomenon.

Sarah Burke-Spolaor, assistant professor in the physics and astronomy department of the  Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and Maura McLaughlin, Eberly Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy, are leading members of a team that has pinpointed the location in the sky of one of these bursts for the first time, allowing scientists to determine the distance and home galaxy of one of these pulses of radio waves.

The new findings are featured as the cover story in the Jan. 5, 2017 issue of the scientific journal Nature as well as in companion papers in Astrophysical Journal Letters. A team of astronomers, including Burke-Spolaor, who is co-author on the paper, also presented the findings at the Astronomical Society’s meeting this week in Grapevine, Texas.

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Nature magazine cover on FRB discovery

A direct localization of a fast radio burst and its host