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Science AMA Series: I’m Dr. Emily Petroff, I just completed my PhD at Swinburne University of Technology. I look for bright radio pulses from space including distant fast radio bursts and also found ra
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Hi Reddit! My name is Emily Petroff and I just finished my PhD at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. My research focuses on finding short, bright bursts of light with large radio telescopes like the Parkes telescope in Australia. I mainly study things called “Fast Radio Bursts” which only last a few milliseconds but release more energy than the Sun does in a day. These bursts seem to be coming from distant galaxies in stellar explosions or collisions of neutron stars but we still don’t know exactly what causes them. Last year, I led a team that discovered the first fast radio burst in real-time and used telescopes around the world to try to find out where it came from. Since then we’ve been learning more about these bursts and our team just published the discovery of 5 more from the past 6 years of data. Less than 20 of these bursts have ever been found, but more than 1,000 are happening every day throughout the Universe. We are hoping we will be able to use these bursts to learn about the extreme objects that caused them and the galaxies they live in. This year I also led a team that found that other curious signals in our data were actually coming from microwave ovens at the telescope site. We were able to show that these nearby signals don’t have anything to do with fast radio bursts but that local interference can show up in unexpected ways, especially with more and more electronics encroaching on sites for radio astronomy. Have questions about radio astronomy? Signals from space? Pulsars and neutron stars? I’ll be back at 1 pm EST (10 am PST, 6 pm UTC) to answer your questions, Ask me anything! UPDATE: Thank you to everyone for the questions so far; I’ve had a great time! I’ll be back later today to answer more questions!