In radio astronomy, a fast radio burst (FRB) is a high-energy astrophysical phenomenon of unknown origin manifested as a transient radio pulse lasting a few milliseconds on average.
The first FRB was discovered by Duncan Lorimer and his student David Narkevic in 2007 when they were looking through archival pulsar survey data, and it is therefore commonly referred to as Lorimer Burst. Many FRBs have since been found, including a repeating FRB. Although the exact origin and cause is uncertain, they are almost definitely extragalactic, with the nearest roughly 1.6 billion light years away, and the furthest 17 billion light years away (comoving).
When the FRBs are polarized, it indicates that they are emitted from a source contained within an extremely powerful magnetic field. The origin of the FRBs has yet to be determined; proposals for its origin range from a rapidly rotating neutron star and a black hole to extraterrestrial intelligence.
Sign of extraterrestrial intelligence?
The localization and characterization of the one known repeating source, FRB 121102, has revolutizoned the understanding of the source class. FRB 121102 is identified with a galaxy at a distance of approximately 3 billion light years, well outside the Milky Way Galaxy, and embedded in an extreme environment.
Fast radio bursts are named by the date the signal was recorded, as “FRB YYMMDD”. The first fast radio burst to be described, the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724, was identified in 2007 in archived data recorded by the Parkes Observatory on 24 July 2001. Since then, most known FRBs have been found in previously recorded data. On 19 January 2015, astronomers at Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO) reported that a fast radio burst had been observed for the first time live, by the Parkes Observatory.
Parkes radio telescope
Fast radio bursts are bright, unresolved (pointsource-like), broadband (spanning a large range of radio frequencies), millisecond flashes found in parts of the sky outside the Milky Way. Unlike many radio sources the signal from a burst is detected in a short period of time with enough strength to stand out from the noise floor.
The burst usually appears as a single spike of energy without any change in its strength over time. The bursts last for a period of several milliseconds (thousandths of a second). The bursts come from all over the sky, and are not concentrated on the plane of the Milky Way. Known FRB locations are biased by the parts of the sky that the observatories can image.
A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. Galaxies range in size from dwarfs with just a few hundred million (108) stars to giants with one hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting its galaxy’s center of mass.
Galaxies come in three main types: ellipticals, spirals, and irregulars. A slightly more extensive description of galaxy types based on their appearance is given by the Hubble sequence.
Since the Hubble sequence is entirely based upon visual morphological type (shape), it may miss certain important characteristics of galaxies such as star formation rate in starburst galaxies and activity in the cores of active galaxies.
The Hubble classification system rates elliptical galaxies on the basis of their ellipticity, ranging from E0, being nearly spherical, up to E7, which is highly elongated. These galaxies have an ellipsoidal profile, giving them an elliptical appearance regardless of the viewing angle. Their appearance shows little structure and they typically have relatively little interstellar matter. Consequently, these galaxies also have a low portion of open clusters and a reduced rate of new star formation. Instead they are dominated by generally older, more evolved stars that are orbiting the common center of gravity in random directions.
Spiral galaxies resemble spiraling pinwheels. Though the stars and other visible material contained in such a galaxy lie mostly on a plane, the majority of mass in spiral galaxies exists in a roughly spherical halo of dark matter that extends beyond the visible component, as demonstrated by the universal rotation curve concept.
Spiral galaxies consist of a rotating disk of stars and interstellar medium, along with a central bulge of generally older stars. Extending outward from the bulge are relatively bright arms. In the Hubble classification scheme, spiral galaxies are listed as type S, followed by a letter (a, b, or c) that indicates the degree of tightness of the spiral arms and the size of the central bulge.
Barred spiral galaxy
A majority of spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way galaxy, have a linear, bar-shaped band of stars that extends outward to either side of the core, then merges into the spiral arm structure. In the Hubble classification scheme, these are designated by an SB, followed by a lower-case letter (a, b or c) that indicates the form of the spiral arms (in the same manner as the categorization of normal spiral galaxies).
A ring galaxy is a galaxy with a circle-like appearance. Hoag’s Object, discovered by Art Hoag in 1950, is an example of a ring galaxy. The ring contains many massive, relatively young blue stars, which are extremely bright. The central region contains relatively little luminous matter. Some astronomers believe that ring galaxies are formed when a smaller galaxy passes through the center of a larger galaxy. Because most of a galaxy consists of empty space, this “collision” rarely results in any actual collisions between stars.
A lenticular galaxy (denoted S0) is a type of galaxy intermediate between an elliptical (denoted E) and a spiral galaxy in galaxy morphological classification schemes. They contain large-scale discs but they do not have large-scale spiral arms. Lenticular galaxies are disc galaxies that have used up or lost most of their interstellar matter and therefore have very little ongoing star formation. They may, however, retain significant dust in their disks.
An irregular galaxy is a galaxy that does not have a distinct regular shape, unlike a spiral or an elliptical galaxy. Irregular galaxies do not fall into any of the regular classes of the Hubble sequence, and they are often chaotic in appearance, with neither a nuclear bulge nor any trace of spiral arm structure.
Despite the prominence of large elliptical and spiral galaxies, most galaxies in the Universe are dwarf galaxies. These galaxies are relatively small when compared with other galactic formations, being about one hundredth the size of the Milky Way, containing only a few billion stars. Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies have recently been discovered that are only 100 parsecs across.
Interactions between galaxies are relatively frequent, and they can play an important role in galactic evolution. Near misses between galaxies result in warping distortions due to tidal interactions, and may cause some exchange of gas and dust. Collisions occur when two galaxies pass directly through each other and have sufficient relative momentum not to merge.
Stars are created within galaxies from a reserve of cold gas that forms into giant molecular clouds. Some galaxies have been observed to form stars at an exceptional rate, which is known as a starburst. If they continue to do so, then they would consume their reserve of gas in a time span less than the lifespan of the galaxy. Hence starburst activity usually lasts for only about ten million years, a relatively brief period in the history of a galaxy.
A portion of the observable galaxies are classified as active galaxies if the galaxy contains an active galactic nucleus (AGN). A significant portion of the total energy output from the galaxy is emitted by the active galactic nucleus, instead of the stars, dust and interstellar medium of the galaxy.
The standard model for an active galactic nucleus is based upon an accretion disc that forms around a supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the core region of the galaxy. The radiation from an active galactic nucleus results from the gravitational energy of matter as it falls toward the black hole from the disc. In about 10% of these galaxies, a diametrically opposed pair of energetic jets ejects particles from the galaxy core at velocities close to the speed of light. The mechanism for producing these jets is not well understood.
Wormholes were first theorized in 1916, though that wasn’t what they were called at the time. While reviewing another physicist’s solution to the equations in Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Austrian physicist Ludwig Flamm realized another solution was possible. He described a “white hole,” a theoretical time reversal of a black hole. Entrances to both black and white holes could be connected by a space-time conduit.
In 1935, Einstein and physicist Nathan Rosen used the theory of general relativity to elaborate on the idea, proposing the existence of “bridges” through space-time. These bridges connect two different points in space-time, theoretically creating a shortcut that could reduce travel time and distance. The shortcuts came to be called Einstein-Rosen bridges, or wormholes.
Certain solutions of general relativity allow for the existence of wormholes where the mouth of each is a black hole. However, a naturally occurring black hole, formed by the collapse of a dying star, does not by itself create a wormhole.
Wormholes are consistent with the general theory of relativity, but whether wormholes actually exist remains to be seen.
A wormhole could connect extremely long distances such as a billion light years or more, short distances such as a few meters, different universes, or different points in time
For a simplified notion of a wormhole, space can be visualized as a two-dimensional (2D) surface. In this case, a wormhole would appear as a hole in that surface, lead into a 3D tube (the inside surface of a cylinder), then re-emerge at another location on the 2D surface with a hole similar to the entrance. An actual wormhole would be analogous to this, but with the spatial dimensions raised by one. For example, instead of circular holes on a 2D plane, the entry and exit points could be visualized as spheres in 3D space.
Science fiction is filled with tales of traveling through wormholes. But the reality of such travel is more complicated, and not just because we’ve yet to spot one.
The first problem is size. Primordial wormholes are predicted to exist on microscopic levels, about 10–33 centimeters. However, as the universe expands, it is possible that some may have been stretched to larger sizes.
Another problem comes from stability. The predicted Einstein-Rosen wormholes would be useless for travel because they collapse quickly.
“You would need some very exotic type of matter in order to stabilize a wormhole,” said Hsu, “and it’s not clear whether such matter exists in the universe.”
But more recent research found that a wormhole containing “exotic” matter could stay open and unchanging for longer periods of time.
Exotic matter, which should not be confused with dark matter or antimatter, contains negative energy density and a large negative pressure. Such matter has only been seen in the behavior of certain vacuum states as part of quantum field theory.
If a wormhole contained sufficient exotic matter, whether naturally occurring or artificially added, it could theoretically be used as a method of sending information or travelers through space. Unfortunately, human journeys through the space tunnels may be challenging.
Wormholes may not only connect two separate regions within the universe, they could also connect two different universes. Similarly, some scientists have conjectured that if one mouth of a wormhole is moved in a specific manner, it could allow for time travel.
Although adding exotic matter to a wormhole might stabilize it to the point that human passengers could travel safely through it, there is still the possibility that the addition of “regular” matter would be sufficient to destabilize the portal.
Today’s technology is insufficient to enlarge or stabilize wormholes, even if they could be found. However, scientists continue to explore the concept as a method of space travel with the hope that technology will eventually be able to utilize them.
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for the universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution. The model describes how the universe expanded from a very high-density and high-temperature state, and offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), large scale structure and Hubble’s law. If the known laws of physics are extrapolated to the highest density regime, the result is a singularity which is typically associated with the Big Bang. Physicists are undecided whether this means the universe began from a singularity, or that current knowledge is insufficient to describe the universe at that time. Detailed measurements of the expansion rate of the universe place the Big Bang at around 13.8 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the universe. After the initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of subatomic particles, and later simple atoms. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity in halos of dark matter, eventually forming the stars and galaxies visible today.
1° Planck epoch <10−43 seconds
0 seconds: Planck Epoch begins: earliest meaningful time. The Big Bang occurs in which ordinary space and time develop out of a primeval state (possibly a virtual particle or false vacuum) described by a quantum theory of gravity or “Theory of Everything”. All matter and energy of the entire visible universe is contained in an unimaginably hot, dense point (gravitational singularity), a billionth the size of a nuclear particle. This state has been described as a particle desert. Other than a few scant details, conjecture dominates discussion about the earliest moments of the universe’s history since no effective means of testing this far back in space-time is presently available. WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles) or dark matter and dark energy may have appeared and been the catalyst for the expansion of the singularity. The infant universe cools as it begins expanding outward. It is almost completely smooth, with quantum variations beginning to cause slight variations in density.
2° Grand unification epoch
Grand unification epoch begins: While still at an infinitesimal size, the universe cools down to 1032 kelvin. Gravity separates and begins operating on the universe—the remaining fundamental forces stabilize into the electronuclear force, also known as the Grand Unified Force or Grand Unified Theory (GUT), mediated by (the hypothetical) X and Y bosons which allow early matter at this stage to fluctuate between baryon and lepton states.
3° Electroweak epoch
10−36 seconds: Electroweak epoch begins: The Universe cools down to 1028 kelvin. As a result, the Strong Nuclear Force becomes distinct from the Electroweak Force perhaps fuelling the inflation of the universe. A wide array of exotic elementary particles result from decay of X and Y bosons which include W and Z bosons and Higgs bosons.
10−33 seconds: Space is subjected to inflation, expanding by a factor of the order of 1026 over a time of the order of 10−33 to 10−32 seconds. The universe is supercooled from about 1027 down to 1022 kelvin.
10−32 seconds: Cosmic inflation ends. The familiar elementary particles now form as a soup of hot ionized gas called quark-gluon plasma; hypothetical components of Cold dark matter (such as axions) would also have formed at this time.
4° Quarks epoch
10−12 seconds: Electroweak phase transition: the four fundamental interactions familiar from the modern universe now operate as distinct forces. The Weak nuclear force is now a short-range force as it separates from Electromagnetic force, so matter particles can acquire mass and interact with the Higgs Field. The temperature is still too high for quarks to coalesce into hadrons, and the quark-gluon plasma persists (Quark epoch). The universe cools to 1015 kelvin.
10−11 seconds: Baryogenesis may have taken place with matter gaining the upper hand over anti-matter as baryon to antibaryon constituencies are established.
Hadron epoch 10−6 seconds
Hadron epoch begins: As the universe cools to about 1010 kelvin, a quark-hadron transition takes place in which quarks bind to form more complex particles—hadrons. This quark confinement includes the formation of protons and neutrons (nucleons), the building blocks of atomic nuclei.
Lepton Epoch 1 second
Lepton epoch begins: The universe cools to 109 kelvin. At this temperature, the hadrons and antihadrons annihilate each other, leaving behind leptons and antileptons – possible disappearance of antiquarks. Gravity governs the expansion of the universe: neutrinos decouple from matter creating a cosmic neutrino background.
7° Photon epoch (Matter era )
10 seconds: Photon epoch begins: Most of the leptons and antileptons annihilate each other. As electrons and positrons annihilate, a small number of unmatched electrons are left over – disappearance of the positrons.
10 seconds: Universe dominated by photons of radiation – ordinary matter particles are coupled to light and radiation while dark matter particles start building non-linear structures as dark matter halos. Because charged electrons and protons hinder the emission of light, the universe becomes a super-hot glowing fog.
3 minutes: Primordial nucleosynthesis: nuclear fusion begins as lithium and heavy hydrogen (deuterium) and helium nuclei form from protons and neutrons.
20 minutes: Nuclear fusion ceases: normal matter consists of 75% hydrogen and 25% helium – free electrons begin scattering light.
70,000 years: Matter domination in Universe: onset of gravitational collapse as the Jeans length at which the smallest structure can form begins to fall.
8° Cosmic Dark Age
The “Dark Ages” is the period between decoupling, when the universe first becomes transparent, until the formation of the first stars. Recombination:
electrons combine with nuclei to form atoms, mostly hydrogen and helium. Distributions of hydrogen and helium at this time remains constant as the electron-baryon plasma thins. The temperature falls to 3000 kelvin.
Ordinary matter particles decouple from radiation. The photons present at the time of decoupling are the same photons that we see in the cosmic microwavebackground (CMB) radiation.
10 million years: With a trace of heavy elements in the Universe, the chemistry that later sparked life begins operating.
100 million years: Gravitational collapse: ordinary matter particles fall into the structures created by dark matter. Reionization begins: smaller (stars) and larger non-linear structures (quasars) begin to take shape – their ultraviolet light ionizes remaining neutral gas.
200–300 million years: First stars begin to shine: Because many are Population III stars (some Population II stars are accounted for at this time) they are much bigger and hotter and their life-cycle is fairly short. Unlike later generations of stars, these stars are metal free. As reionization intensifies, photons of light scatter off free protons and electrons – Universe becomes opaque again.
600 million years: Renaissance of the Universe—end of the Dark Ages as visible light begins dominating throughout. Possible formation of the Milky Way Galaxy: although age of the Methusaleh star suggests a much older date of origin, it is highly likely that HD 140283 may have come into our galaxy via a later galaxy merger. Oldest confirmed star in Milky Way Galaxy, HE 1523-0901.
700 million years: Galaxies form. Smaller galaxies begin merging to form larger ones. Galaxy classes may have also begun forming at this time including Blazars, Seyfert galaxies, radio galaxies, normal galaxies (elliptical, Spiral galaxies, barred spiral) and dwarf galaxies.
7.8 billion years: Acceleration: dark-energy dominated era begins, following the matter-dominated era in during which cosmic expansion was slowing down
Formation of the solar system
9.2 billion years: Primal supernova, possibly triggers the formation of the Solar System.
9.2318 billion years: Sun forms – Planetary nebula begins accretion of planets.
9.23283 billion years: Four Jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune ) evolve around the sun.
9.257 billion years: Solar System of Eight planets, four terrestrial (Mercury (planet), Venus, Earth, Mars) evolve around the sun.
Artist’s logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang’s invisible plasma on the edge.
Galaxies in our universe seem to be achieving an impossible feat. They are rotating with such speed that the gravity generated by their observable matter could not possibly hold them together; they should have torn themselves apart long ago. The same is true of galaxies in clusters, which leads scientists to believe that something we cannot see is at work. They think something we have yet to detect directly is giving these galaxies extra mass, generating the extra gravity they need to stay intact. This strange and unknown matter was called “dark matter” since it is not visible.
Unlike normal matter, dark matter does not interact with the electromagnetic force. This means it does not absorb, reflect or emit light, making it extremely hard to spot. In fact, researchers have been able to infer the existence of dark matter only from the gravitational effect it seems to have on visible matter.
The primary evidence for dark matter is that calculations show that many galaxies would fly apart instead of rotating, or would not have formed or move as they do, if they did not contain a large amount of unseen matter. Other lines of evidence include observations in gravitational lensing, from the cosmic microwave background, from astronomical observations of the observable universe’s current structure, from the formation and evolution of galaxies, from mass location during galactic collisions, and from the motion of galaxies within galaxy clusters.
Dark matter seems to outweigh visible matter roughly six to one, making up about 27% of the universe. Here’s a sobering fact: The matter we know and that makes up all stars and galaxies only accounts for 5% of the content of the universe!
But what is dark matter? One idea is that it could contain “supersymmetric particles” – hypothesized particles that are partners to those already known in the Standard Model. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may provide more direct clues about dark matter.
Many theories say the dark matter particles would be light enough to be produced at the LHC. If they were created at the LHC, they would escape through the detectors unnoticed. However, they would carry away energy and momentum, so physicists could infer their existence from the amount of energy and momentum “missing” after a collision.
The primary candidate for dark matter is some new kind of elementary particle that has not yet been discovered, in particular, weakly-interacting massive particles (WIMPs). Many experiments to directly detect and study dark matter particles are being actively undertaken, but none have yet succeeded. Dark matter is classified as cold, warm, or hot according to its velocity (more precisely, its free streaming length). Current models favor a cold dark matter scenario, in which structures emerge by gradual accumulation of particles. We can also cite the hypothetical elemental particle called Axion. If axions exist and have low mass within a specific range, they are of interest as a possible component of cold dark matter.
Dark matter candidates arise frequently in theories that suggest physics beyond the Standard Model, such as supersymmetry and extra dimensions. One theory suggests the existence of a “Hidden Valley”, a parallel world made of dark matter having very little in common with matter we know. If one of these theories proved to be true, it could help scientists gain a better understanding of the composition of our universe and, in particular, how galaxies hold together.
Located in the Southern Hemisphere, NGC 3324 is at the northwest corner of the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), home of the Keyhole Nebula and the active, outbursting star Eta Carinae. The entire Carina Nebula complex is located at a distance of roughly 7,200 light-years, and lies in the constellation Carina.
Other “ solar systems ”. The Milky Way has an average of 200 to 400 billion stars, not all stars have a planet around them, but others could have could have at least one planet around them or even more, could have two, four, eight , or more… now imagine the diversity of these worlds, all this is only in the Milky Way… Do you believe there is life out there?
Image credit: NASA/JPL; Tiago Campante / Peter Devine.