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©2017 by Interplanetary Podcast.


#137 - David Baker - FRB

The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.

Alexey Leonov

We're Joined by David Baker

Among loads of things we talk about he wants us to save Dundee Satellite Receiving Station

60th Anniversary

June 14th 1949 – Albert II, a rhesus monkey, rides a V-2 rocket to an altitude of 134 km (83 mi), thereby becoming the first monkey in space. Albert II died on impact after a parachute failure

Scientists discover mysterious huge mass on the Moon.

Peter James from Baylor University, Texas and collegues, In their paper, published in Geophysical Research Letters, used data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, discovered a huge, dense mass that appears to extend down beneath the moon's surface by over 180 miles.

"Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected"

The South Pole‐Aitken basin is a gigantic impact structure on the far side of the Moon, with an inner rim extending approximately 2,000 km in the long axis dimension. The structure and history of this basin are illuminated by gravity and topography data, which constrain the subsurface distribution of mass. These data point to the existence of a large excess of mass in the Moon's mantle under the South Pole‐Aitken basin. This anomaly has a minimum mass of 2.18 billion x billion kg and likely extends to depths of more than 300 km. Might be the metal core impactor or oxides from the last stage of magma ocean crystallization.

“we need some idea of how much of a cost is expected to be incurred over the next five years, Or do we literally have no idea what we’re getting into?”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) pressed Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, for the total cost of the Artemis program, As fear mounts for that Artemis will rob the coffers of the NASA science programs.

David Spergel, astrophysicist said “The planetary decadal survey did not identify a major investment in studying the lifeless moon as one of its highest priorities, I’m concerned that high priority programs will be terminated to enable lower priority science and accelerating the lunar program”

Jim Bridenstine has said on multiple occasions that he would not “cannibalize” science program to pay for Artemis.

India has set a July 15 launch date for its next lunar mission. The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is scheduled for the early morning hours of July 15 on a GSLV Mark 3 rocket. The spacecraft will take several weeks to reach the moon, entering orbit. A lander will separate from the orbiter and attempt a landing in the southern polar regions of the moon


A consortium announced plans Tuesday for another launch site in Great Britain. The proposed "Spaceport 1" is a vertical launch site that will be built on the Scottish island of North Uist. The project led by Western Isles local authority - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar - is separate to bids to build ports in Sutherland and in Shetland A local government council has agreed to spend 1 million British pounds to purchase the land for spaceport, which would be used by small launch vehicles. The project is separate from a similar site planned for the northern coast of Scotland, and comes a week after the British government said it would support development of spaceport facilities at an airport in Cornwall that would host Virgin Orbit missions

This on the back of UK Space Agency press release.

UK will play a leading role in the new space age, with new support for domestic satellite launch capability, space weather forecasting, and a National Space Council.

  • Up to £20 million could be made available from national and local government, subject to business case, for Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit as part of the Industrial Strategy spaceflight programme – LaunchUK

  • UK Space Agency to work with the United States to enhance space weather forecasting, with £7 million for UCL scientists to build key instruments.

  • In the absence of space weather forecast capability, the socioeconomic impacts of an extreme space weather event, known as a Carrington event, could cost the UK £16 billion.


  • National Space Council to be established as part of upgrade to UK space strategy and governance

  • The National Space Framework will consist of 3 priority areas:

  • Prosperity and Knowledge

  • Security and Protection

  • Global Influence

  • 4. The US National Space Council was re-established in June 2017 in order to provide a coordinated process for developing and monitoring the implementation of US space policy and strategy. The Vice President of the United States chairs the Council.

FRB Special

FRBs are a bit like birds, what are birds? ...we just don’t know. a fast radio burst (FRB) is a transient radio pulse of length ranging from a fraction of a millisecond to a few milliseconds, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process not yet identified. Although the source must be just increcdibley poweful, after almost certainly travelling intergalgatic space the energy arriving at earth is 1,000s of times less than from a mobile phone on the Moon

these bursts are a trillion times brighter intrinsically than the pulsars that we know of.

The story of the first Burst

Duncan Lorimer assigned his student undergraduate David Narkevic to look through archival data taken in 2001 by the Parkes radio dish in Australia, and he found this crazy, 30-jansky* dispersed burst which occurred on 24 July 2001,less than 5 milliseconds in duration, located 3° from the Small Magellanic Cloud. But the really odd thing is when you re-look to that location with any telescope at any frequency there is nothing! No optical, gamma, infrared ..nada.

A jansky is named after Karl Guthe Jansky who discovered radio waves being emitted by the milky way in 1931. and is a non-SI unit of spectral flux density, equivalent to 10−26 watts per square metre per hertz. And often combined with Steradians. Like megajanskies per steradian.

Whoops! FRB more like KFC

In 2010 there was a report of 16 similar pulses, clearly of terrestrial origin, detected by the Parkes radio telescope and given the name perytons. In 2015 perytons were shown to be generated when microwave oven doors were opened during a heating cycle, with detected emission being generated by the microwave oven's magnetron tube as it was being powered off

FRB 121102 is a big deal!!

Fast radio bursts are named by the date the signal was recorded, as "FRB YYMMDD".

In November 2015, astronomer Paul Scholz at McGill University in Canada, found ten non-periodically repeated fast radio pulses in archival data gathered in May and June 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescopeThe ten bursts had sky positions consistent with an original burst FRB 121102, detected in 2012 …. The first of 2 repeaters. Astronomers now realise this isn’t a cataclysmic event but something that could repeat. And now it’s been observed to flash more than 150 times and almost certainly tracked it to a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light-years from Earth.

This is a long way away, this event was happening before the cambrian explosion, way before the dinosaurs and the energy released in that fraction of a second is enough to power all of mankind for trillions of years.

Other properties of FRB 121102’s burst show that the source is embedded in a strong magnetic field, suggesting that the bursts come from a neutron star that is either near a massive black hole or inside a highly magnetized supernova remnant.

The end of the alien hypothosis as reported in #115.

On 9 January 2019, astronomers announced the discovery of a second repeating FRB source, named FRB 180814, by CHIME. Six bursts were detected between August and October 2018, "consistent with originating from a single position on the sky". The detection was made during CHIME's pre-commissioning phase, The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is an interferometric radio telescope in Canada which which looks like a bunch of discarded curved metal fencing parts.

Up until now, none have been found below 700 megahertz. But Chime has detected down to 400 megahertz – the lowest they can detect with CHIME – and in a frequency range where none have been seen before

What the hell are they?

  1. Mega Collisions of the bad boys of space, merging black holes or neutron stars

  2. Aliens - er it’s never aliens

  3. hyperflares of magnetars, the highly magnetised super crazy bad ass twin of a Pulsar

  4. Rediculously energetic supernovae

  5. A blitzar: These bad boys magnetar/pulsars would become blackholes but they are spinning so fast the resultant centrifugal force prevents the colapse, but they are doomed, they start to slow and suddenly collapse, The magnetic field is suddenly cut of from it’s suddenly “dissapeared” section and instantly released as a blast of energy. But as maganetic field of the pulsar had cleared the surrounding space the blackhole does not feed and release any x-rays

  6. dark matter-induced collapse of pulsars

  7. explosive decays of axion miniclusters ( hypothetical elementary particle postulated by the Peccei–Quinn theory in 1977) Non-linear effects in the evolution of the axion field in the early Universe may lead to the formation of gravitationally bound clumps of axions, known as "miniclusters" observed properties (total energy release, duration, high brightness temperature, event rate) of Fast Radio Bursts can be matched in a model which assumes explosive decay of axion miniclusters.

  8. cosmic strings as they interacted with the plasma that permeated the early Universe

  9. black hole explosions, FRBs would be the first detection of quantum gravity effects

  10. strong magnetic field near a supermassive black hole could destabilize the current sheets within a pulsar's magnetosphere, releasing trapped energy

We talked about the discovery of a 2nd repeating FRB and how it put the nail in the coffin of it being of intelligent alien origin back on Podcast 115? The first repeating FRB gave astronomers the chance to hunt down this source region, a star-forming, low-metallicity dwarf galaxy located roughly 3 billion light-years away, remarkably a dimmer, persistent radio source was discovered in the same region that produced the bursts. This has lent support to one theory, FRB are powered by a magnetized (10^15 G - a PetaGauss) neutron star (Magnetar) born decades ago in a superluminous supernova. widely accepted as a likely explanation for soft gamma repeaters (SGRs) and anomalous X-ray pulsars (AXPs). There are 29 magnetars known: 15 SGRs (11 confirmed, 4 candidates), and 14 AXPs (12 confirmed, 2 candidate).

In a recent paper by A Radio Source Coincident with the Superluminous Supernova PTF10hgi: Evidence for a Central Engine and an Analog of the Repeating FRB 121102, the authors looked at 7.5 year old Superluminous Supanaova and found a radio souce preveiously unseen. the first detection of radio emission coincident with an SLSN on any timescale. They investigated various scenarios fo cause, star formation, active galactic nucleus, supernova blastwave, none appear likely, instead it looks very similar to our repeating FRB, could this be the mystery solved? They show that the properties of the radio source are consistent with a magnetar wind nebula or an off-axis jet, indicating the presence of this central engine as a possible cause of the FRB.

As a fast radio burst travels through the universe, it is interacting with electrons and the magnetic field in the universe. There are a lot of different effects which we can study along the line of sight, so when we detect say 10,000 fast radio bursts, we can use this to sort of do a tomography (a technique for displaying a representation of a cross section through a human body or other solid object using X-rays or ultrasound.) of the universe. We can look through different lines of sight and understand the distribution of matter and magnetic fields in the universe.

Space fact of the week

Mercury is the closest planet over time to the earth ….

Although Venus is the planet that comes closest to Earth as it sweeps by on its orbit, Mercury stays the closest to Earth the longest

Researchers have devised a new mathematical technique, called the point-circle method, to measure the distances between planets. This method averages the distance between a bunch of points on each planet's orbit, thereby taking time into consideration