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A radio telescope in Canada has proved its mettle in finding many new examples of fast radio bursts (FRBs) — giving astronomers one of their best shots yet at unraveling the mystery of these cosmic flashes.

“Look! We see FRBs,” Deborah Good, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington, on 7 January.

Good reported the first results from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), a telescope that was originally designed to explore the early Universe but has turned out to be ideal for detecting FRBs. First spotted in 20071, FRBs are one of the most intriguing mysteries in astrophysics. They appear all over the sky, and astronomers aren't sure what causes them.

In early testing during July and August, before it began full operations, CHIME spotted 13 FRBs. Prior to this, astronomers had between 50 and 60 examples.

The more FRBs that astronomers find, the greater the chance they can start to pin down their origin. "If we had 1,000 examples, we would be able to say many more things about what FRBs are like," Good said.

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Category: Science