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Detection of radio transients

An EU team used linked radio telescopes to investigate astronomical phenomena that suddenly appear very brightly then disappear quickly. The project studied powerful jets associated with accretion discs, and helped prepare future equipment.
Detection of radio transients
Certain extremely powerful – yet brief – astrophysical events are now known to be relatively common, and thus suitable for systematic study using radio telescopes. New technologies combining many small antennas into large arrays allow constant monitoring of the entire sky in a highly detailed way.

The EU-funded RADIOTRANSIENTS (Detecting and characterizing radio transients) project aimed to use new telescope arrays to watch for and detect the transient phenomena of interest. In particular, the study examined jets: powerful beams of energy that emerge from the rapidly rotating accretion discs surrounding massive objects. The consortium planned to coordinate simultaneous investigation of the detected events using X-ray and gamma-ray monitors, and to commission a new monitor.

Researchers initially familiarised themselves with the algorithms used for detecting transient objects. The team devised a system for classifying objects based on time taken for the burst signals to peak and disappear.

Additionally, workers readied apparatus that conducts multi-wavelength follow-up study of detected objects. The consortium obtained funding for MeerLICHT, the optical monitor for the international MeerKAT array. Designs were finalised, including data reduction software, and problems of data storage solved.

As jets are a key aspect of the project, researchers received training on the topic, in preparation for receiving and interpreting data. The team prepared to study jet-producing objects including black holes, neutron stars and white dwarfs, also the occurrence rates of jets produced by white dwarfs. Completion of the stage depended on availability of TunderKat data.

Results reveal evidence for a group of faint, short-lived bursts that is underrepresented in conventional samples. A further discovery involved surprisingly strong mid-infrared emissions in a group of nova-like stars. Data support two different theories about the likely mechanism. Researchers also studied the cycles of dwarf novae. This stage yielded spatial location of the objects, observations about X-ray luminosity changes and suggestions for future detection with the planned Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Astronomers also discovered two new X-ray transients using archived Chandra telescope data.

RADIOTRANSIENTS' groundwork contribution to the science of transient astronomical objects will benefit the field in the future. The work means rapid detection and identification of objects that flash in the sky briefly.

Related information


Radio transients, astronomical, jets, accretion discs
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