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The dispersion–brightness relation for fast radio bursts from a wide-field survey


Despite considerable efforts over the past decade, only 34 fast radio bursts—intense bursts of radio emission from beyond our Galaxy—have been reported1,2. Attempts to understand the population as a whole have been hindered by the highly heterogeneous nature of the searches, which have been conducted with telescopes of different sensitivities, at a range of radio frequencies, and in environments corrupted by different levels of radio-frequency interference from human activity. Searches have been further complicated by uncertain burst positions and brightnesses—a consequence of the transient nature of the sources and the poor angular resolution of the detecting instruments. The discovery of repeating bursts from one source3, and its subsequent localization4 to a dwarf galaxy at a distance of 3.7 billion light years, confirmed that the population of fast radio bursts is located at cosmological distances. However, the nature of the emission remains elusive. Here we report a well controlled, wide-field radio survey for these bursts. We found 20, none of which repeated during follow-up observations between 185–1,097 hours after the initial detections. The sample includes both the nearest and the most energetic bursts detected so far. The survey demonstrates that there is a relationship between burst dispersion and brightness and that the high-fluence bursts are the nearby analogues of the more distant events found in higher-sensitivity, narrower-field surveys5.

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Data availability

Raw data files (totalling 1 PB) are archived on tape at the Pawsey Superconducting Centre. Cut-outs of the raw data, in pulsar filterbank format (http://sigproc.sourceforge.net), and posterior localization regions, are available on the CSIRO data access portal through https://doi.org/10.25919/5b6ae6b515850. Other data products are available on request from R.M.S.


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We thank the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) engineering and technical staff for their help in supporting these observations, and especially thank the staff of the Murchison Radio-astronomy observatory. We thank C. Flynn, P. Edwards, N. Tejos and V. McIntyre for comments on the manuscript, and members of the Commensal Real-time ASKAP Fast Transients (CRAFT) team for discussions. We thank the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) principal engineer, R. Wayth, for access to the Galaxy supercomputer graphics processing units (GPU) cluster. R.M.S. and S.O. acknowledge Australian Research Council (ARC) grant FL150100148. R.M.S. also acknowledges support through ARC grant CE170100004. G.G. acknowledges support through a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Office of the Chief Executive (OCE) postdoctoral fellowship. Parts of this research were conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO; grant CE110001020). This research was also supported by the ARC through grant DP18010085. The Australian SKA Pathfinder and Parkes radio telescopes are part of the ATNF, which is managed by the CSIRO. Operation of ASKAP is funded by the Australian Government with support from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. ASKAP uses the resources of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. Establishment of ASKAP, the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre are initiatives of the Australian Government, with support from the Government of Western Australia and the Science and Industry Endowment Fund. We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji people as the traditional owners of the Observatory site. This research has made use of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) Extragalactic Database (NED), which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with NASA.

Reviewer information

Nature thanks J. Cordes, D. Lorimer and S. Ransom for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Author information

K.W.B. led the development of the CRAFT data-acquisition system. R.M.S., J.-P.M. and K.W.B. designed the survey. R.M.S., J-.P.M., K.W.B. and R.D.E drafted the manuscript. R.M.S. and K.W.B. conducted the observations, with assistance from A.W.H. and M.A.V. K.W.B. designed the search code. K.W.B., C.W.J., S.O., H.Q. and M.S. verified survey efficiency. R.M.S., with discussions with J.R.A., implemented the FRB localization algorithm. R.M.S., J.-P.M. and R.D.E interpreted the fluence and dispersion-measure distributions of the population. C.W.J., S.O. and J.-P.M. interpreted the nonrepetition of the ASKAP sample and compared it with the repeating FRB. R.M.S. and S.O. led searches for follow-up bursts at Parkes. E.M.S. studied the optical fields surrounding the detected FRBs. R.J.B., M.B., A.J.B., J.D.B., A.P.C., C.H., A.W.H., M.L., M.M., D.M., M.A.P, E.R.T., J.T., M.A.V. and M.T.W. contributed to development and commissioning of the CRAFT observing mode. J.R.A., C.S.A., M.E.B., J.D.C., G.G., G.H. and C.J.R. contributed to ASKAP commissioning and early science.

Correspondence to R. M. Shannon or J.-P. Macquart.

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This file contains Supplementary Information, including additional references, Supplementary Tables 1-19 and Supplementary Figures 1-28.

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Pulse profiles and dynamic spectra of ASKAP FRBs.
Fig. 2: Distribution of FRB fluences and extragalactic dispersion measures.


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