Shared data reveals radio bursts, and a lunch break

In May 2014, a team led by PhD candidate Emily Petroff from Swinburne University was the first to see ‘fast radio bursts’ (FRBs) live, using the Parkes radio telescope in central New South Wales. The search was triggered by signals found in recycled data. They also discovered that someone was opening the kitchen microwave.


Lasting only milliseconds, fast radio bursts were first discovered in 2007 by American astronomers combing archival data from Parkes. They are thought to have been generated by extreme events billions of light-years from Earth. But they’d never been seen live until Emily’s coordinated stake-out. And no-one would know about them without access to radio data accumulated by Parkes.

Australia. Credit: Stock photo, iStockphoto
Fast radio bursts were first discovered in 2007 by American astronomers combing archival data from Parkes. Credit: iStock

This is just one example of the benefits of documenting, storing, and making data accessible to others.

Open Research Data, a 2015 study commissioned by the Australian National Data Service, found that the value of unrealised data sharing was an estimated $1.4 to $4.9 billion.

The report parallels the experience of NASA. They found that $75 million spent on sharing Hubble Space Telescope data led to a doubling in the science output.

And the lunchbreak? Emily and her colleagues found other unexplained radio bursts in the data they analysed and named them perytons. These turned out to occur only during lunch breaks and were tracked down to someone opening a microwave oven.

For more information: Australian National Data Service, ands.org.au/resource/open-research-data.html

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