CHIME Telescope Detects a Signal

The CHIME telescope, located south of Penticton BC, is Canada’s largest radio telescope. It has only been in operation for about a year but detected the first-ever Fast Radio Burst (FRB) at frequencies below 700 MHz on July 25th 2018, a signal named FRB 180725A.

Image of CHIME radio telescope
The CHIME radio telescope consists of four adjacent 20m x 100m cylindrical reflectors oriented north-south

A fast radio burst (FRB) is a high-energy astrophysical phenomenon of unknown origin detected as a bright radio pulse lasting a few milliseconds on average. The exact origin and cause of FRBs is uncertain, they are found in parts of the sky outside the plane of the Milky Way galaxy and are thought to be extragalactic. The first FRB was reported in 2007 and roughly two dozen have been reported as of mid-2017. However, they are ubiquitous: with estimates suggesting these events arrive at Earth roughly a thousand times per day.

CHIME has a novel design with no moving parts. The telescope has a large collecting area consisting of four 20m x 100m cylindrical reflectors. It has a large field of view (~200 square degrees) and broad frequency coverage (400-800 MHz). It was designed to map the density of the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen, over a large part of the observable universe. CHIME’s design also makes it a superb detector of FRBs – the CHIME FRB event rate is predicted to be between 2 and 50 FRBs per day. This high event rate promises major progress on these puzzling astrophysical phenomenon.