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FRB origins through host galaxy studies

Carlsberg Foundation Reintegration Fellowships


The cosmic enigma known as fast radio bursts are one of the major puzzles in contemporary astrophysics. These bursts are powerful pulses of radio emission that releases as much energy in a millisecond as the Sun puts out in a year. Their exact origin and emission mechanisms, however, remains unclear. This project aims to shed light on the origins of fast radio bursts by studying their host galaxy environments, based on an on-going programme at the Very Large Telescope in Chile dedicated to obtain the first homogenous and unbiased sample of their host galaxies. These observations will ultimately help uncovering the physical nature of these exotic bursts.


Uncovering the origin of fast radio bursts will not only have immense impact on our understanding of these extreme astrophysical processes. It will also benefit the study of compact objects in general, how these exotic objects are formed, and their place in the overall scheme of galaxy evolution. Moreover, with a better understanding of the origin of fast radio bursts, it also becomes possible to fully utilize their powerful signals as unique tracers of all the baryons that permeates the "cosmic web" of intergalactic gas, which is otherwise invisible due to its hot, diffuse state. Quantifying the presence and distribution of this diffuse gas will also allow us to independently infer the expansion rate of the Universe.


The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) will soon detect and accurately localize hundreds of fast radio bursts per year. In combination with a Large Programme at the Very Large Telescope, for which I have recently been awarded 180 hours as the lead investigator as part of a larger international collaboration, we will obtain dedicated observations to pin-point and characterize a sample of 50 fast radio bursts and their host galaxies. This survey will present the first complete, uniformly-selected and unbiased sample of fast radio burst hosts. The characteristics of the host galaxies will provide strong clues to the physical nature of fast radio bursts, and the inferred distances to them opens up the opportunity to measure and constrain important cosmological parameters.


Outreach activities related to this project are natural given the high level of interest in mysterious, unknown cosmic explosions such as fast radio bursts among the general public. To resolve this enigma we will also obtain optical observations with one of the largest and most advanced telescopes in the world, providing detailed images of distant galaxies, revealing their internal structures and dynamics. This project will further cement the Danish involvement and leadership in large international collaborations and our overall engagement with the European Southern Observatory. These results and observations will spark awe and inspiration in the public and in particular the young, next generation of astronomers and scientists in general.