They have pinpointed it to a massive galaxy billions of light years away, with properties that upend what scientists previously thought they knew about the formation of mysterious fast radio bursts (FRBs).

“This result is highly anticipated within the astronomy community,” Casey Law, an astronomer at UC Berkeley who was not involved in the study told AFP.

The findings, published in the journal Science, are among the most significant since the discovery in 2007 of FRBs, which flash for only a micro-instant but can emit as much energy in a millisecond as the Sun does in 10,000 years.

Exactly what creates these high-energy surges of long waves at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum remains the subject of intense debate, though scientists now agree they originate in far away galaxies.

Since the first FRB was detected a little over a decade ago, a global hunt has found 85 bursts. Most have been “one-offs” but a small fraction have been “repeaters” that recur at the same spot in the sky.

– Live replay -In 2017, astronomers were able to trace the source of a repeating burst, but locating a one-off FRB presented a much more difficult challenge.

Without the benefit of knowing where to look, a team led by Keith Bannister of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) had to devise a new methodology.

“You can think of it as live action replay mode, where we have a computer that’s actually looking for the FRB, so it looked through about a billion measurements every second and I tried to find the one that contains an FRB,” Bannister told AFP.

Bannister and his team pinpointed the location of FRB 180924 about 3.6 billion light years from Earth.

The discovery was detected on CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope in Western Australia.