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For the first time ever, astronomers say that they have observed and witnessed a ‘fast radio burst’ or cosmic radio burst in real time.

Cosmic radio bursts or fast radio bursts may have only been discovered eight years ago, and previously never been observed in real time. However, a team of astronomers announced in a published piece in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that it had finally happened. While astronomers and scientists aren’t entirely sure why cosmic radio bursts happen, or where specifically they happen – they do know what they are. Cosmic radio bursts – or fast radio bursts as they’re sometimes called – are incredibly short bursts of light that come from radio waves. There is no source of the light, and observers are rarely shocked by them – because they happen so infrequently. Typically, they last a few milliseconds, and then disappear once again.

Since the discovery of them in 2007 – a few have been observed retroactively. Meaning, scientists and astronomers have observed them happening – after they have occurred. However, until now there wasn’t any evidence to suggest that anyone had seen it in real time. The team of astronomers were from all over the world observed a cosmic radio burst in real time, and upon doing so, changed the landscape in terms of accomplishing firsts in the science community. John Mulchaey of the Carnegie Observatories’ – where it was spotted – that “these events are one of the biggest mysteries in the Universe,” and that “until now, astronomers were not able to catch one of these events in the act.”

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One of the team members pointed out that “these bursts were generally discovered weeks or months or even more than a decade after they happened! We’re the first to catch one in real time.” However, observing one of these fast radio bursts is definitely no fast, or easy, process. In fact, it required the team to mobile 12 telescopes around the world. The telescopes all followed the burst at different wavelengths to ultimately catch it in the act. Data from the team reveals that the burst happened from roughly 5.5 billion light years away – and now could go a very long way to understanding the world and space we live in more effectively.

Now though, it is a little clearer – according to the astronomers involved – where exactly these bursts are coming from. Previously, many were under the impression that the burst could have come from a nearby supernova. Now though, astronomers at least have a reference point to begin their study as it relates to the origin of the cosmic burst.

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