Astronomical radio source

Astronomical radio sources are objects in outer space that emit strong radio waves. Radio emission comes from a wide variety of sources. Such objects represent some of the most extreme and energetic physical processes in the universe.


In 1932, American physicist and radio engineer Karl Jansky detected radio waves coming from an unknown source in the center of our galaxy. Jansky was studying the origins of radio frequency interference for Bell Laboratories. He found "...a steady hiss type static of unknown origin", which eventually he concluded had an extraterrestrial origin. This was the first time that radio waves were detected from outer space.[1] The first radio sky survey was conducted by Grote Reber and was completed in 1941. In the 1970s, some stars in our galaxy were found to be radio emitters, one of the strongest being the unique binary MWC 349.[2]

Sources: solar system

The Sun

As the nearest star, the Sun is the brightest radiation source in most frequencies, down to the radio spectrum at 300 MHz (1 m wavelength). When the Sun is quiet, the galactic background noise dominates at longer wavelengths. During geomagnetic storms, the Sun will dominate even at these low frequencies.[3]


Oscillation of electrons trapped in the magnetosphere of Jupiter produce strong radio signals, particularly bright in the decimeter band.

The magnetosphere of Jupiter is responsible for intense episodes of radio emission from the planet's polar regions. Volcanic activity on Jupiter's moon Io injects gas into Jupiter's magnetosphere, producing a torus of particles about the planet. As Io moves through this torus, the interaction generates Alfvén waves that carry ionized matter into the polar regions of Jupiter. As a result, radio waves are generated through a cyclotron maser mechanism, and the energy is transmitted out along a cone-shaped surface. When Earth intersects this cone, the radio emissions from Jupiter can exceed the solar radio output.[4]

Sources: galactic

The galactic center

The galactic center of the Milky Way was the first radio source to be detected. It contains a number of radio sources, including Sagittarius A* and the supermassive black hole at its center.

Supernova remnants

Supernova remnants often show diffuse radio emission. Examples include Cassiopeia A, the brightest extrasolar radio source in the sky, and the Crab Nebula.

Neutron Stars


Pulsar schematic
Schematic view of a pulsar. The sphere in the middle represents the neutron star, the curves indicate the magnetic field lines, the protruding cones represent the emission beams and the green line represents the axis on which the star rotates.

Supernovas sometimes leave behind dense spinning neutron stars called pulsars. They emit jets of charged particles which emit synchrotron radiation in the radio spectrum. Examples include the Crab Pulsar, the first pulsar to be discovered. Pulsars and quasars (dense central cores of extremely distant galaxies) were both discovered by radio astronomers. In 2003 astronomers using the Parkes radio telescope discovered two pulsars orbiting each other, the first such system known.

Rotating Radio Transient (RRAT) Sources

Rotating radio transients (RRATs) are a type of neutron stars discovered in 2006 by a team led by Maura McLaughlin from the Jodrell Bank Observatory at the University of Manchester in the UK. RRATs are believed to produce radio emissions which are very difficult to locate, because of their transient nature.[5] Early efforts have been able to detect radio emissions (sometimes called RRAT flashes)[6] for less than one second a day, and, like with other single-burst signals, one must take great care to distinguish them from terrestrial radio interference. Distributing computing and the Astropulse algorithm may thus lend itself to further detection of RRATs.

Star forming regions

Short radio waves are emitted from complex molecules in dense clouds of gas where stars are giving birth.

Spiral galaxies contain clouds of neutral hydrogen and carbon monoxide which emit radio waves. The radio frequencies of these two molecules were used to map a large portion of the Milky Way galaxy.[7]

Sources: extra-galactic

Radio galaxies

Many galaxies are strong radio emitters, called radio galaxies. Some of the more notable are Centaurus A and Messier 87.

Quasars (short for "quasi-stellar radio source") were one of the first point-like radio sources to be discovered. Quasars' extreme redshift led us to conclude that they are distant active galactic nuclei, believed to be powered by black holes. Active galactic nuclei have jets of charged particles which emit synchrotron radiation. One example is 3C 273, the optically brightest quasar in the sky.

Merging galaxy clusters often show diffuse radio emission.[8]

Cosmic microwave background

The cosmic microwave background is blackbody background radiation left over from the Big Bang (the rapid expansion, roughly 13.8 billion years ago,[9] that was the beginning of the universe).

Extragalactic pulses

D. R. Lorimer and others analyzed archival survey data and found a 30-jansky dispersed burst, less than 5 milliseconds in duration, located 3° from the Small Magellanic Cloud. They reported that the burst properties argue against a physical association with our Galaxy or the Small Magellanic Cloud. In a recent paper, they argue that current models for the free electron content in the universe imply that the burst is less than 1 gigaparsec distant. The fact that no further bursts were seen in 90 hours of additional observations implies that it was a singular event such as a supernova or coalescence (fusion) of relativistic objects.[10] It is suggested that hundreds of similar events could occur every day and, if detected, could serve as cosmological probes. Radio pulsar surveys such as Astropulse-SETI@home offer one of the few opportunities to monitor the radio sky for impulsive burst-like events with millisecond durations.[11] Because of the isolated nature of the observed phenomenon, the nature of the source remains speculative. Possibilities include a black hole-neutron star collision, a neutron star-neutron star collision, a black hole-black hole collision, or some phenomenon not yet considered.

In 2010 there was a new report of 16 similar pulses from the Parkes Telescope which were clearly of terrestrial origin,[12] but in 2013 four pulse sources were identified that supported the likelihood of a genuine extragalactic pulsing population.[13]

These pulses are known as fast radio bursts (FRBs). The first observed burst has become known as the Lorimer burst. Blitzars are one proposed explanation for them.

Sources: not yet observed

Primordial black holes

According to the Big Bang Model, during the first few moments after the Big Bang, pressure and temperature were extremely great. Under these conditions, simple fluctuations in the density of matter may have resulted in local regions dense enough to create black holes. Although most regions of high density would be quickly dispersed by the expansion of the universe, a primordial black hole would be stable, persisting to the present.

One goal of Astropulse is to detect postulated mini black holes that might be evaporating due to "Hawking radiation". Such mini black holes are postulated[14] to have been created during the Big Bang, unlike currently known black holes. Martin Rees has theorized that a black hole, exploding via Hawking radiation, might produce a signal that's detectable in the radio. The Astropulse project hopes that this evaporation would produce radio waves that Astropulse can detect. The evaporation wouldn't create radio waves directly. Instead, it would create an expanding fireball of high-energy gamma rays and particles. This fireball would interact with the surrounding magnetic field, pushing it out and generating radio waves.[15]


Previous searches by various "search for extraterrestrial intelligence" (SETI) projects, starting with Project Ozma, have looked for extraterrestrial communications in the form of narrow-band signals, analogous to our own radio stations. The Astropulse project argues that since we know nothing about how ET might communicate, this might be a bit closed-minded. Thus, the Astropulse Survey can be viewed as complementary to the narrow-band SETI@home survey as a by-product of the search for physical phenomena.

Other undiscovered phenomena

Explaining their recent discovery of a powerful bursting radio source, NRL astronomer Dr. Joseph Lazio stated:[16] "Amazingly, even though the sky is known to be full of transient objects emitting at X- and gamma-ray wavelengths, very little has been done to look for radio bursts, which are often easier for astronomical objects to produce." The use of coherent dedispersion algorithms and the computing power provided by the SETI network may lead to discovery of previously undiscovered phenomena.

See also


  1. ^ Koupelis, Theo; Karl F. Kuhn (2007). In Quest of the Universe (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Publishers. p. 149. ISBN 0-7637-4387-9. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  2. ^ Braes, L.L.E. (1974). "Radio Continuum Observations of Stellar Sources". IAU Symposium No.60, Maroochydore, Australia, September 3–7, 1973. 60: 377–381. Bibcode:1974IAUS...60..377B. doi:10.1017/s007418090002670x.
  3. ^ Michael Stix (2004). The sun: an introduction. Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-20741-2. section 1.5.4 The Radio Spectrum
  4. ^ "Radio Storms on Jupiter". NASA. February 20, 2004. Retrieved August 23, 2017. (archived version)
  5. ^ David Biello (2006-02-16). "New Kind of Star Found". Scientific American. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  6. ^ Jodrell Bank Observatory. "RRAT flash". Physics World. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  7. ^ Gonzalez, Guillermo; Wesley Richards (2004). The Privileged Planet. Regnery Publishing. p. 382. ISBN 0-89526-065-4. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  8. ^ "Conclusion". Archived from the original on 2006-01-28. Retrieved 2006-03-29.
  9. ^ "Cosmic Detectives". The European Space Agency (ESA). 2013-04-02. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  10. ^ D. R. Lorimer; M. Bailes; M. A. McLaughlin; D. J. Narkevic; F. Crawford (2007-09-27). "A Bright Millisecond Radio Burst of Extragalactic Origin". Science. 318: 777–780. arXiv:0709.4301. Bibcode:2007Sci...318..777L. doi:10.1126/science.1147532. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  11. ^ Duncan Lorimer (West Virginia University, USA); Matthew Bailes (Swinburne University); Maura McLaughlin (West Virginia University, USA); David Narkevic (West Virginia University, USA) & Fronefield Crawford (Franklin & Marshall College, USA) (October 2007). "A bright millisecond radio burst of extragalactic origin". Australia Telescope National Facility. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  12. ^ Sarah Burke-Spolaor; Matthew Bailes; Ronald Ekers; Jean-Pierre Macquart; Fronefield Crawford III (2010). "Radio Bursts with Extragalactic Spectral Characteristics Show Terrestrial Origins". The Astrophysical Journal. 727: 18. arXiv:1009.5392. Bibcode:2011ApJ...727...18B. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/727/1/18.
  13. ^ D. Thornton; B. Stappers; M. Bailes; B. Barsdell; S. Bates; N. D. R. Bhat; M. Burgay; S. Burke-Spolaor; D. J. Champion; P. Coster; N. D'Amico; A. Jameson; S. Johnston; M. Keith; M. Kramer; L. Levin; S. Milia; C. Ng; A. Possenti; W. van Straten (2013-07-05). "A Population of Fast Radio Bursts at Cosmological Distances". Science. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
  14. ^ "The case for mini black holes". Cern Courier. 2004-11-24. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  15. ^ "Primordial Black Holes". SETI@home. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  16. ^ Andrea Gianopoulos; Shannon Wells; Michelle Lurch-Shaw; Janice Schultz; DonnaMcKinney (2005-03-02). "Astronomers Detect Powerful Bursting Radio Source Discovery Points to New Class of Astronomical Objects". Retrieved 2010-06-23.
Berkeley SETI Research Center

The Berkeley SETI Research Center (BSRC) conducts experiments searching for optical and electromagnetic transmissions from intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations. The center is based at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Berkeley SETI Research Center has several SETI searches operating at various wavelengths, from radio, through infrared, to visible light. These include SERENDIP, SEVENDIP, NIROSETI, Breakthrough Listen, and SETI@home. The research center is also involved in the development of new telescopes and instrumentation.

The Berkeley SETI Research Center is independent of, but collaborates with, researchers at the SETI Institute. No unambiguous signals from extraterrestrial intelligence have been found.

Cassiopeia A

Cassiopeia A (Cas A) is a supernova remnant (SNR) in the constellation Cassiopeia and the brightest extrasolar radio source in the sky at frequencies above 1 GHz. The supernova occurred approximately 11,000 light-years (3.4 kpc) away within the Milky Way. The expanding cloud of material left over from the supernova now appears approximately 10 light-years (3 pc) across from Earth's perspective. In wavelengths of visible light, it has been seen with amateur telescopes down to 234mm (9.25 in) with filters.It is estimated that light from the stellar explosion first reached Earth approximately 300 years ago, but there are no historical records of any sightings of the supernova that created the remnant. Since Cas A is circumpolar for mid-Northern latitudes, this is probably due to interstellar dust absorbing optical wavelength radiation before it reached Earth (although it is possible that it was recorded as a sixth magnitude star 3 Cassiopeiae by John Flamsteed on August 16, 1680). Possible explanations lean toward the idea that the source star was unusually massive and had previously ejected much of its outer layers. These outer layers would have cloaked the star and re-absorbed much of the light released as the inner star collapsed.

Cas A was among the first discrete astronomical radio sources found. Its discovery was reported in 1948 by Martin Ryle and Francis Graham-Smith, astronomers at Cambridge, based on observations with the Long Michelson Interferometer. The optical component was first identified in 1950.Cas A is 3C461 in the Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources and G111.7-2.1 in the Green Catalog of Supernova Remnants.

Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy

The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) was an astronomical instrument comprising 23 radio telescopes. These telescopes formed an astronomical interferometer where all the signals are combined in a purpose-built computer (a correlator) to produce high-resolution astronomical images. The telescopes ceased operation in April 2015 and were relocated to the Owens Valley Radio Observatory for storage.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile has succeeded CARMA as the most powerful millimeter wave interferometer in the world.

Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty-Centimeters

Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty-Centimeters, or FIRST, was an astronomical survey of the Northern Hemisphere carried out by the Very Large Array. It was led by Robert H. Becker, Richard L. White, and David J. Helfand, who came up with the idea for the survey after they had completed the VLA Galactic Plane survey in 1990, as well as Michael D. Gregg and Sally A. Laurent-Muehleisen. The survey was started 50 years after the first systematic survey of the radio sky was completed by Grote Reber in April 1943.

Galactic Center

The Galactic Center, or Galactic Centre, is the rotational center of the Milky Way. It is 8,122 ± 31 parsecs (26,490 ± 100 ly) away from Earth in the direction of the constellations Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, and Scorpius where the Milky Way appears brightest. It coincides with the compact radio source Sagittarius A*.

There are around 10 million stars within one parsec of the Galactic Center, dominated by red giants, with a significant population of massive supergiants and Wolf-Rayet stars from a star formation event around one million years ago, and one supermassive black hole of 4.100 ± 0.034 million solar masses at the Galactic Center, which powers the Sagittarius A* radio source.

Hat Creek Radio Observatory

The Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HCRO) is operated by SRI International in the Western United States. The observatory is home to the Allen Telescope Array designed and owned by the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA.

Hercules A

Hercules A is a bright astronomical radio source within the vicinity of the constellation Hercules corresponding to the galaxy 3C 348.

History of the telescope

The earliest known telescope appeared in 1608 in the Netherlands when an eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey tried to obtain a patent on one. Although Lippershey did not receive his patent, news of the new invention soon spread across Europe. The design of these early refracting telescopes consisted of a convex objective lens and a concave eyepiece. Galileo improved on this design the following year and applied it to astronomy. In 1611, Johannes Kepler described how a far more useful telescope could be made with a convex objective lens and a convex eyepiece lens and by 1655 astronomers such as Christiaan Huygens were building powerful but unwieldy Keplerian telescopes with compound eyepieces.Isaac Newton is credited with building the first reflector in 1668 with a design that incorporated a small flat diagonal mirror to reflect the light to an eyepiece mounted on the side of the telescope. Laurent Cassegrain in 1672 described the design of a reflector with a small convex secondary mirror to reflect light through a central hole in the main mirror.

The achromatic lens, which greatly reduced color aberrations in objective lenses and allowed for shorter and more functional telescopes, first appeared in a 1733 telescope made by Chester Moore Hall, who did not publicize it. John Dollond learned of Hall's invention and began producing telescopes using it in commercial quantities, starting in 1758.

Important developments in reflecting telescopes were John Hadley's production of larger paraboloidal mirrors in 1721; the process of silvering glass mirrors introduced by Léon Foucault in 1857; and the adoption of long-lasting aluminized coatings on reflector mirrors in 1932. The Ritchey-Chretien variant of Cassegrain reflector was invented around 1910, but not widely adopted until after 1950; many modern telescopes including the Hubble Space Telescope use this design, which gives a wider field of view than a classic Cassegrain.

During the period 1850–1900, reflectors suffered from problems with speculum metal mirrors, and a considerable number of "Great Refractors" were built from 60 cm to 1 metre aperture, culminating in the Yerkes Observatory refractor in 1897; however, starting from the early 1900s a series of ever-larger reflectors with glass mirrors were built, including the Mount Wilson 60-inch (1.5 metre), the 100-inch (2.5 metre) Hooker Telescope (1917) and the 200-inch (5 metre) Hale telescope (1948); essentially all major research telescopes since 1900 have been reflectors. A number of 4-metre class (160 inch) telescopes were built on superior higher altitude sites including Hawaii and the Chilean desert in the 1975–1985 era. The development of the computer-controlled alt-azimuth mount in the 1970s and active optics in the 1980s enabled a new generation of even larger telescopes, starting with the 10-metre (400 inch) Keck telescopes in 1993/1996, and a number of 8-metre telescopes including the ESO Very Large Telescope, Gemini Observatory and Subaru Telescope.

The era of radio telescopes (along with radio astronomy) was born with Karl Guthe Jansky's serendipitous discovery of an astronomical radio source in 1931. Many types of telescopes were developed in the 20th century for a wide range of wavelengths from radio to gamma-rays. The development of space observatories after 1960 allowed access

to several bands impossible to observe from the ground, including X-rays and longer wavelength infrared bands.

John D. Kraus

John Daniel Kraus (June 28, 1910 – July 18, 2004) was an American physicist known for his contributions to electromagnetics, radio astronomy, and antenna theory. His inventions included the helical antenna, the corner reflector antenna, and several other types of antennas. He designed the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University, which was constructed mostly by a team of OSU students and was used to carry out the Ohio Sky Survey. Kraus held a number of patents and published widely.

Karl Guthe Jansky

Karl Guthe Jansky (October 22, 1905 – February 14, 1950) was an American physicist and radio engineer who in August 1931 first discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way. He is considered one of the founding figures of radio astronomy.

Radio astronomy

Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The first detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was in 1932, when Karl Jansky at Bell Telephone Laboratories observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of different sources of radio emission. These include stars and galaxies, as well as entirely new classes of objects, such as radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, and masers. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, regarded as evidence for the Big Bang theory, was made through radio astronomy.

Radio astronomy is conducted using large radio antennas referred to as radio telescopes, that are either used singularly, or with multiple linked telescopes utilizing the techniques of radio interferometry and aperture synthesis. The use of interferometry allows radio astronomy to achieve high angular resolution, as the resolving power of an interferometer is set by the distance between its components, rather than the size of its components.

Radio source

Radio source may refer to:

An astronomical radio source

A radio transmitter

The Radio Open Source podcast and blog

Radio telescope

A radio telescope is a specialized antenna and radio receiver used to receive radio waves from astronomical radio sources in the sky. Radio telescopes are the main observing instrument used in radio astronomy, which studies the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by astronomical objects, just as optical telescopes are the main observing instrument used in traditional optical astronomy which studies the light wave portion of the spectrum coming from astronomical objects. Radio telescopes are typically large parabolic ("dish") antennas similar to those employed in tracking and communicating with satellites and space probes. They may be used singly or linked together electronically in an array. Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can be used in the daytime as well as at night. Since astronomical radio sources such as planets, stars, nebulas and galaxies are very far away, the radio waves coming from them are extremely weak, so radio telescopes require very large antennas to collect enough radio energy to study them, and extremely sensitive receiving equipment. Radio observatories are preferentially located far from major centers of population to avoid electromagnetic interference (EMI) from radio, television, radar, motor vehicles, and other man-made electronic devices.

Radio waves from space were first detected by engineer Karl Guthe Jansky in 1932 at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey using an antenna built to study noise in radio receivers. The first purpose-built radio telescope was a 9-meter parabolic dish constructed by radio amateur Grote Reber in his back yard in Wheaton, Illinois in 1937. The sky survey he did with it is often considered the beginning of the field of radio astronomy.

Sagittarius A*

Sagittarius A* (pronounced "Sagittarius A-Star", abbreviated Sgr A*) is a bright and very compact astronomical radio source at the center of the Milky Way, near the border of the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius. It is likely the location of a supermassive black hole, similar to those generally accepted to be at the centers of most if not all spiral and elliptical galaxies.

Observations of a number of stars, most notably the star S2, orbiting around Sagittarius A* have been used to show the presence of, and produce data about, the Milky Way's central supermassive black hole, and have led to the conclusion that Sagittarius A* is the site of that black hole.

Spectral energy distribution

A spectral energy distribution (SED) is a plot of energy versus frequency or wavelength of light (not to be confused with a 'spectrum' of flux density vs frequency or wavelength). It is used in many branches of astronomy to characterize astronomical sources. For example, in radio astronomy they are used to show the emission from synchrotron radiation, free-free emission and other emission mechanisms. In infrared astronomy, SEDs can be used to classify young stellar objects.

Stockert Radio Telescope

The Stockert Radio Telescope is a historical radio telescope in the Eifel mountain range in Germany, situated 12 km from the Effelsberg 100-m Radio Telescope.

Timeline of scientific discoveries

The timeline below shows the date of publication of possible major scientific theories and discoveries, along with the discoverer. In many cases, the discoveries spanned several years.

Very-long-baseline interferometry

Very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) is a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy. In VLBI a signal from an astronomical radio source, such as a quasar, is collected at multiple radio telescopes on Earth. The distance between the radio telescopes is then calculated using the time difference between the arrivals of the radio signal at different telescopes. This allows observations of an object that are made simultaneously by many radio telescopes to be combined, emulating a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes.

Data received at each antenna in the array include arrival times from a local atomic clock, such as a hydrogen maser. At a later time, the data are correlated with data from other antennas that recorded the same radio signal, to produce the resulting image. The resolution achievable using interferometry is proportional to the observing frequency. The VLBI technique enables the distance between telescopes to be much greater than that possible with conventional interferometry, which requires antennas to be physically connected by coaxial cable, waveguide, optical fiber, or other type of transmission line. The greater telescope separations are possible in VLBI due to the development of the closure phase imaging technique by Roger Jennison in the 1950s, allowing VLBI to produce images with superior resolution.VLBI is best known for imaging distant cosmic radio sources, spacecraft tracking, and for applications in astrometry. However, since the VLBI technique measures the time differences between the arrival of radio waves at separate antennas, it can also be used "in reverse" to perform earth rotation studies, map movements of tectonic plates very precisely (within millimetres), and perform other types of geodesy. Using VLBI in this manner requires large numbers of time difference measurements from distant sources (such as quasars) observed with a global network of antennas over a period of time.

Radio telescopes
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