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Newly activated Canadian telescope rings in new year with high-profile publications

by Jon Farrow
Jan 10 / 19

The CHIME telescope is paying discovery dividends with two recent papers in Nature.

The papers describe 13 fast radio burst (FRB) detections, one of which is a rare “repeater” and all of which occured in the pre-commissioning phase last summer.

In a valley in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, lies a telescope unlike any other that is finding clues to one of modern astrophysics most intriguing puzzles. Despite only being active for a few months, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) has already made tremendous progress in furthering our understanding fast radio bursts (FRBs).

Every night it images a strip of the night’s sky at wavelengths too long for the human eye to detect, in search of bright flashes of light. Only 50 of these flashes had ever been discovered before CHIME began operations in 2018, and only one had been observed repeating. With 13 new FRBs, including the second-ever repeating FRB, reported in these new papers, the sample size is growing quickly.

Professor Victoria Kaspi is the R. Howard Webster Foundation Fellow and director of CIFAR’s Gravity & the Extreme Universe program. A co-author on the papers, she says, “FRBs are a major astrophysical mystery because they are such powerful sources of radio waves -- observable clear across the Universe -- yet are so ubiquitous, observed to be occurring roughly 1000 times every day."

And these latest publications are just the first drops in what promises to be a large bucket of discovery. “The CHIME/FRB project has, with these new discoveries, demonstrated it will be a powerful FRB detector, enabling us to observe these events in far greater numbers than ever before. This will surely help us solve the FRB puzzle.”

To learn more about CHIME and FRBs, watch Kaspi’s 2018 CIFAR Massey Talk and read our recap of the event.

The papers can be accessed here and here.