Bursts from Space: MeerKAT – the first citizen science project dedicated to commensal radio transients
Abstract:The newest generation of radio telescopes is able to survey large areas with high sensitivity and cadence, producing data volumes that require new methods to better understand the transient sky. Here, we describe the results from the first citizen science project dedicated to commensal radio transients, using data from the MeerKAT telescope with weekly cadence. Bursts from Space: MeerKAT was launched late in 2021 and received ∼89 000 classifications from over 1000 volunteers in 3 months. Our volunteers discovered 142 new variable sources which, along with the known transients in our fields, allowed us to estimate that at least 2.1 per cent of radio sources are varying at 1.28 GHz at the sampled cadence and sensitivity, in line with previous work. We provide the full catalogue of these sources, the largest of candidate radio variables to date. Transient sources found with archival counterparts include a pulsar (B1845-01) and an OH maser star (OH 30.1–0.7), in addition to the recovery of known stellar flares and X-ray binary jets in our observations. Data from the MeerLICHT optical telescope, along with estimates of long time-scale variability induced by scintillation, imply that the majority of the new variables are active galactic nuclei. This tells us that citizen scientists can discover phenomena varying on time-scales from weeks to several years. The success both in terms of volunteer engagement and scientific merit warrants the continued development of the project, while we use the classifications from volunteers to develop machine learning techniques for finding transients.
Serendipitous discovery of radio flaring behaviour from a nearby M dwarf with MeerKAT
Abstract:We report on the detection of MKT J174641.0−321404, a new radio transient found in untargeted searches of wide-field MeerKAT radio images centred on the black hole X-ray binary H1743−322. MKT J174641.0−321404 is highly variable at 1.3 GHz and was detected three times during 11 observations of the field in late 2018, reaching a maximum flux density of 590 ± 60 μJy. We associate this radio transient with a high proper motion, M dwarf star SCR 1746−3214 12 pc away from the Sun. Multiwavelength observations of this M dwarf indicate flaring activity across the electromagnetic spectrum, consistent with emission expected from dMe stars, and providing upper limits on quiescent brightness in both the radio and X-ray regimes. TESS photometry reveals a rotational period for SCR 1746−3214 of 0.2292 ± 0.0025 days, which at its estimated radius makes the star a rapid rotator, comparable to other low mass systems. Dedicated spectroscopic follow up confirms the star as a mid-late spectral M dwarf with clear magnetic activity indicated by strong Hα emission. This transient’s serendipitous discovery by MeerKAT, along with multiwavelength characterisation, make it a prime demonstration of both the capabilities of the current generation of radio interferometers and the value of simultaneous observations by optical facilities such as MeerLICHT. Our results build upon the literature of of M dwarfs’ flaring behaviour, particularly relevant to the habitability of their planetary systems.
FRB 20121102A: images of the bursts and the varying radio counterpart
Abstract:As more Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are being localized, we are learning that some fraction have persistent radio sources (PRSs). Such a discovery motivates an improvement in our understanding of the nature of those counterparts, the relation to the bursts themselves and why only some FRBs have PRSs. We report on observations made of FRB 20121102A with the MeerKAT radio telescope. Across five epochs, we detect the PRS associated with FRB 20121102A. Our observations are split into a cluster of four epochs (MJD 58732-58764) and a separate single epoch about 1000 d later. The measured flux density is constant across the first four observations but then decays by more than one-third in the final observation. Our observations on MJD 58736 coincided with the detections of 11 bursts from FRB 20121102A by the MeerTRAP backend, seven of which we detected in the image plane. We discuss the importance of image plane detections when considering the commensal transient searches being performed with MeerKAT and other radio facilities. We find that MeerKAT is so sensitive that within a 2-s image, we can detect any FRB with a flux density above 2.4 mJy at 1.3 GHz and so could localize every FRB that has been detected by CHIME to date.
Commensal Transient Searches in Eight Short Gamma Ray Burst Fields
A new generation of radio telescopes with excellent sensitivity, instantaneous uv coverage, and large fields of view, are providing unprecedented opportunities for performing commensal transient searches. Here we present such a commensal search in deep observations of short gamma-ray burst fields carried out with the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa at 1.3 GHz. These four hour observations of eight different fields span survey lengths of weeks to months. We also carry out transient searches in time slices of the full observations, at timescales of 15 minutes, and 8 seconds. We find 122 variable sources on the long timescales, of which 52 are likely active galactic nuclei, but there are likely also some radio flaring stars. While the variability is intrinsic in at least two cases, most of it is consistent with interstellar scintillation. In this study, we also place constraints on transient rates based on state-of-the-art transient simulations codes. We place an upper limit of 2 × 10−4 transients per day per square degree for transients with peak flux of 5 mJy, and an upper limit of 2.5 × 10−2 transients per day per square degree for transients with a fluence of 10 Jy ms, the minimum detectable fluence of our survey.