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Scientists offer new method for mapping the cosmos in 3-D

Scientists believe the new methodology will offer a three-dimensional map of the cosmos

By Brooks Hays
Scientists offer new method for mapping the cosmos in 3-D
Researchers are proposing a new method for mapping the cosmos. File photo by UPI Photo/NASA/Hubble | License Photo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Scientists in Canada have proposed a new strategy for measuring how far away distant galaxies are. The method could also help researchers map the distribution of matter in the cosmos.

The technique, conceived by astronomers at the University of British Columbia, relies on mysterious bursts of energy called fast radio bursts. The brief but intense flashes of radio waves have only been recorded on ten separate occasions, and researchers don't know what causes them.

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But they could be used, scientists say, to measure the dimension of faraway galaxies.

As the enigmatic bursts travel toward Earth, their radio waves spread out, and different frequencies arrive at different times. Researchers say these delays can clue scientists in to the amount of cosmic material that lies between the burst's origin and Earth.

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That there have only ever been ten fast radio bursts may sound like a problem, but researchers at UBC insist it won't be once we start looking for them.

They're out there, and a team of researchers from three Canadian universities, including UBC, McGill, and the University of Toronto, is intent on finding them. They've dubbed their project -- which will be aided by a radio telescope -- CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment).

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"CHIME has the potential of seeing tens to hundreds of these events per day so we can build a catalogue of events," Kris Sigurdson, associate professor of physics and astronomy at UBC, said of the project. "If they are cosmological, we can use this information to build catalogue of galaxies."

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More than just measure the distance of galaxy, scientists think the new methodology will offer a three-dimensional map of the cosmos, aiding scientists' quest to understand the evolution of the universe.

"We believe we'll be able to use these flashes to put together a picture of how galaxies are spread through space," said Kiyoshi Masui, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC.

Their proposal is detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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