Last week, Slate published a great story on one of the little known details that made the worldwide broadcast of the moon landing possbile.
On Monday Australia’s Swinburne University announced that one of its astrophysics PhD students, Emily Petroff, had become the first person to witness a fast radio burst arrive at Earth from billions of light years away. Fast radio bursts, known in the astrophysics biz as FRBs, are a known phenomenon, but until Petroff saw one arriving last May, had never been witnessed live. FRBs last just milliseconds, but can give off about as much energy as the sun does in a day. Their source is unknown, but, according to Petroff, “the neat idea that we are seeing a neutron star imploding into a black hole remains a possibility.”
The mysterious cosmic burst was observed via the Parkes Radio Telescope, a 210-foot-wide dish in the middle of a sheep paddock 240 miles west of Sydney. The story of this telescope, known affectionately as The Dish, is a very Australian one. In the mid-1950s, the CSIRO (Australia’s national science agency) went looking for a sparsely populated site free from radio interference. There they would establish an observatory formidable enough to impress the Americans.
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