Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, are one of the hottest topics in astronomy right now. These intense blasts of radio energy reach us from outside the galaxy, lasting only milliseconds before they disappear once more. Astronomers aren’t sure what causes them, and none of these bursts have ever repeated — except one, FRB 121102, which made headlines with the identification of its host galaxy, sitting nearly 3 billion light-years away.
ALERT, the Apertif Lofar Exploration of the Radio Transient Sky, is investigating the Northern Sky with unprecedented speed and precision, to determine the nature amongst others such Fast Radio Bursts. The Apertif Radio Transient System (ARTS) is the new, high-speed, wide-field radio camera for the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope. It consists of the revolutionary new Apertif front ends (the “eyes”) and an exceedingly powerful GPU supercomputer (“the brain”). The algorithms (the “thoughts”) for this supercomputer were developed in a collaboration involving ASTRON, Universiteit van Amsterdam, and the Netherlands eScience Center.
The final ARTS GPU hardware was just installed in the Westerbork server room, in the last week of August. On 31 August the team started commissioning the system by observing FRB 121102. During this observation, ARTS detected a bright FRB, its first. The burst is very short (1.3 ms) and bright (24 Jy). The team reported the detection in ATel #10693. Further details and plots are available at http://www.alert.eu/FRB121102_20170831/
Image source: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NRC/NSF/NRAO