On the origins of Fast Radio Bursts and perytons: a statement

May 8, 2015

Earlier this year, we issued a press release for the publication by our PhD student Emily Petroff at Swinburne University and her supervisors and colleagues, reporting the first real-time observation of a Fast Radio Burst (FRB). This paper added to a growing body of detections of these short-lived but highly energetic events; see also our 2013 press release. The 2015 publication and press release attracted significant coverage in online and print media, in addition to virtually countless websites and blogs. Emily appeared, for instance, in an ABC24 TV interview and was dedicated an entire episode of SBS “The Feed”, also featuring our Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt. Both Emily and Brian provided scientifically sound explanations of the detections and speculated on the yet unknown origins of these FRBs.

Following the upload of her most recent manuscript to the e-print server arXiv.org in April, which at the time had only been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal but not yet accepted for publication, the media immediately took to Emily’s new results. In her paper, Emily reports on having identified radio interference at the Parkes telescope site – signals of unknown origin called “perytons” that had been found in the data for several decades – as radiation escaping near-by microwave ovens when the door is opened ahead of the timed heating process. A second surge in the uptake of this story in the media is currently being seen. A positive example of this media coverage is the Sydney Morning Herald. However, most unfortunately – and damaging to the pubic portrayal of science – many other journalists do not seek clarification of their interpretation of the paper, often resulting in a gross misrepresentation of Emily’s discovery and previous research. One such example was the report in SBS Newshour on 5 May 2015 in which snippets of “The Feed” footage was being used to effectively ridicule both Emily and Brian.

CAASTRO would like to use this statement to confirm FRBs as yet to be fully characterised sources of cosmic origin, as described by Emily and numerous other CAASTRO members (as part of “The Dynamic Universe” research theme) and their esteemed international colleagues. The identification and description of perytons in the Parkes data – as a very local and non-astronomical event – does NOT invalidate previous research into FRBs. CAASTRO further urges any media representative to contact “The Dynamic Universe” theme leader Professor Matthew Bailes for clarification or verification of their drafts.