back to article Typical! You wait ages for a fast radio burst from outer space, and suddenly 13 show up

Canada's new radio telescope, built to explore the early universe, has turned out to be a handy hunter for the mysterious phenomenon called Fast Radio Bursts (FRB). These bursts from outer space were first picked up in 2007 (in data archived since 2001) by Australia's Parkes radio telescope, and only a few dozen have been …

  1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

    Fingers crossed

    I really really really hope FRBs don't turn out to be as embarrassingly mundane as FMBs.

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

      Re: Fingers crossed

      "I really really really hope FRBs don't turn out to be as embarrassingly mundane as FMBs."

      Fast Methane Bursts? I was thinking along similar lines - galactic farts.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Fingers crossed

        Frozen microwave breakfasts?

    2. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

      Re: Fingers crossed

      Fast Microwave Bursts. Detected at Parkes (as were the first FRBs). Unexplained for ages. Turned out to be a technician heating his lunch in the staff canteen and opening the microwave door without pressing stop first.

  2. iowe_iowe

    I'm presuming they don't need to worry about a forced windows 10 creators update..

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      > I'm presuming they don't need to worry about a forced windows 10 creators update..

      Don't worry, massive scientific computations like that a usually run on Linux.

      1. tony2heads


        also loads of FPGAs, GPUs and a massive switch for the heavy signal processing.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Or Unix even?

        1. tfb Silver badge

          Other than IBM I think all the HPC people are Linux now.

  3. wolfetone

    Maybe it's from that drone they couldn't find at Gatwick...

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Bursting bubbles

    They say FRB's are named for the detection date, but if astronomers start getting lots of them, that will need to be (ahem) updated. Still, it's way cool that the universe still has curve balls to throw at us! I'm old enough to recall when we thought things were starting to settle down. Hah!

  5. Michael Hoffmann

    And the MSM is already spouting off about aliens.

    1. Ragarath

      But.. it's ET's morse code! It's why we've never detected them before. Too... damn... fast.

      1. JCitizen


        Ye beat me to it!

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      And the MSM is already spouting off about aliens.

      I think the media are locked into a permanent Silly Season. They might as well report aliens, Bigfoot and bombers on the moon, because that makes just about as much sense as most "real" news. If there's an afterlife Guy Debord must be laughing his head off.

  6. Semtex451 Silver badge

    FRBs happen because the FSM has gas.

    1. spold Bronze badge

      Farty Radio Bursts - they can be detrimental to the atmosphere.

  7. CAPS LOCK Silver badge


    If you get the chance watch The Dish -

    1. Michael Hoffmann

      Re: Parkes!

      One of my favourite movies. A true gem!

      For you ->

  8. MJB7 Silver badge

    Numbers don't add up

    I can't make the numbers add up. 1TB/s is about 86 PB/day. Even 142 GB/s is still 12 PB/day. Where is the low bandwidth (†) 1.5 PB/day coming from?

    † Look, everything's relative OK?

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Numbers don't add up

      The 142 GB/s is quoted as the transfer rate from the front-end to the back-end. I assume the back-end does even more processing to reduce the rate.

  9. tfb Silver badge

    'Something big'

    Actually this means 'something small': if an FRB lasts 3ms then whatever made it is no larger than 1,000km across, which is tiny: the Earth's radius is more than 6,000km, so the things that do this are 1/12 the size of Earth or less.

    Of course they are 'big' in terms of energy output. I remember reading about people's reactions when they first realised what the inferred power output of quasars were given how small they must be based on the rate at which they vary. That must have been a serious 'oh, fuck' moment for people I think.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: 'Something big'

      if an FRB lasts 3ms then whatever made it is no larger than 1,000km across

      I'm curious about how you've arrived at this figure. My understanding is that the mechanism behind FRBs is unknown, nad there are several postulated explanations. Is this making an assumption that they are caused by one of these postulated mechanisms, in which case, which one, and can you give more details?

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: 'Something big'

        To appear as a single event, the signal pulse can't last longer than the time it takes for light to travel from one side of it to the other. It takes light 3mS to travel 1000km, so something capable of generating a pulse a short as 3mS cannot be more than 1000km across.

      2. tfb Silver badge

        Re: 'Something big'

        Martin Gregorie's comment explains it very well.

        But it's worth reading the history of the discovery of quasars in this regard. Quite early people understood that they must be physically compact because they vary on timescales of tens of hours, so they must be no larger than the Solar system. But the 'stars' associated with them seemed to have absolutely mad spectra. Someone then realised that no, they didn't have mad spectra, they had reasonably ordinary spectra which were hugely redshifted. That left two options: quasars were really far away, or they originated at the bottom of some very deep gravity well. The second doesn't really work: any star that massive will collapse, and people really knew that.

        So that left one option: they were very distant. But if they were distant they must be extremely luminous: thousands of times as luminous as normal galaxies. And they must be small because they vary, so this power is coming from something the size of the Solar system, or smaller. There are hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, so a quasar might be emitting a hundred trillion times the power that the Solar system emits, from a similar volume.

        I don't know how fast people realised this (this must all be known as it's relatively recent), but this must have been a serious 'oh, fuck' moment: suddenly the universe was a different place. In particular this was one of the points when people really understood that black holes were not just this theoretical toy, because the only thing that explains that kind of power output from that kind of volume (fusion is laughably too weedy) is stuff falling into a black hole.

        Astrophysics is the science othe sciences want to be when they grow up.

    2. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: 'Something big'

      Some things can be really small but really massive.

  10. andy gibson


    Thanks for the mention of Parkes, The Dish will be my movie choice for tonight.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Paul Herber Silver badge

    no working from home

    IT support: Hello, IT support here, how can I help you?

    User: Oh hi, yes, I want to do some data analysis while I take a few days leave next week. Could you put all last week's data on a USB stick for me, please?

  13. RobThBay

    Way to go Mike Lazaridis

    "Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is an independent research centre in foundational theoretical physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. It was founded in 1999. The Institute's founding and major benefactor is Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Mike Lazaridis."

    Anyone remember another company that Mike L started a long time ago??

    Research In Motion.

    He's a very smart guy.

  14. earl grey Silver badge

    Nice work boffins

    Have one (or more).


    screen saver

    This would be a cool computation to put in a screen saver, like SETI did.

  16. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Radio bursts deciphered and found to say

    1O.. 9... 8... 7...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    System details

    H/W and S/W details here:

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