AAS Members Honored with 2023 Shaw Prize in Astronomy
The $1.2 million Shaw Prize in Astronomy 2023 is awarded in equal shares to Matthew Bailes (Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery), Duncan Lorimer (West Virginia University), and Maura McLaughlin (West Virginia University), for the discovery of fast radio bursts (FRBs). Lorimer and McLaughlin are both members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).
FRBs are among the most extreme and mysterious phenomena in astronomy: they are intense bursts of radio emission lasting only a few thousandths of a second that contain as much energy as the Sun emits over several days. The sources of the bursts are smaller than the Earth but are as far away as distant galaxies. In a seminal research paper written in 2007, Bailes, Lorimer, and McLaughlin (with collaborators Narkevic and Crawford) found the first FRB; deduced many of the properties of its source, in particular its extreme distance, small size, and enormous energy; estimated the cosmic rate of production of FRBs; and highlighted their potential as cosmological probes.
Despite initial skepticism about whether this unique event was a real astronomical source, the work by Bailes, Lorimer and McLaughlin inspired others to search for these elusive events. By now almost a thousand FRBs have been discovered. Telescopes based on novel technologies are being designed and built specifically to find FRBs and identify their host galaxies.
Although the nature of FRBs remains unknown, they are almost certainly associated with neutron stars, collapsed stellar remnants that contain the mass of the Sun within a diameter of only a few tens of kilometers. FRBs have the potential to provide a unique probe of physics in extreme conditions and of the distribution of matter in the universe.
Matthew Bailes is on the faculty of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin are on the faculty at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, USA. This award is also intended to recognize the other collaborators in this research, and the investigators who collected the original data for other purposes.