Statistical Inference Takes on the Cosmos with CHIME: Big Data, Astrostatistics, and the Fast Radio Burst Enigma

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Collaborative Research Team Project: 2021-2024

This interdisciplinary Collaborative Research Team (CRT) brings together researchers from the fields of statistics and astronomy to answer questions about the most enigmatic objects in modern astronomy: Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs). FRBs are extremely bright, short bursts of radio signals, lasting on the order of milliseconds, which predominantly originate from far outside our own Galaxy. The first FRB was discovered in 2007, and many have been discovered since, but what FRBs are and how they produce bursts of such extreme intensity are still unknown. To further complicate matters, some FRBs are now known to burst repeatedly, either at irregular or regular intervals. Understanding FRBs as a population is key to discovering the physical mechanism that creates them and to being able to use them as precision probes of the cosmos. Canada hosts the world’s leading radio telescope for finding and studying FRBs: the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), located near Penticton, BC. The CHIME/FRB Collaboration consists of astronomers and physicists from across Canada who study CHIME data to find large numbers of FRBs and better understand them as a population.

CHIME has discovered more than 1000 FRBs in its two years of operations so far, which is several times more than every other telescope on Earth combined. However, the extreme volumes of data from CHIME present enormous challenges such as missing data, censoring, measurement uncertainty, and heteroschedastic errors. Moreover, up to now each FRB is analysed individually, making analysis time-consuming and difficult. This CRT’s goal is to help develop a robust statistical method to characterize thousands of FRBs more efficiently. We will tackle CHIME’s big data challenges with new statistical methods to help achieve the CHIME/FRB collaboration’s scientific goal of understanding and characterizing FRBs as a population. This CRT will also help develop new and long-term research connections between astronomers and statisticians in Canada and beyond.

Team Leader:

Gwendolyn Eadie, Assistant Professor, David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy &Astrophysics, Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Toronto.


Bingham, Derek, Professor, Department of Statistics & Actuarial Science, Simon Fraser University

Craiu, Radu, Professor & Chair, Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Toronto

Gaensler, Bryan, Professor, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, Director of the Dunlap Institute, Co-Investigator in CHIME/FRB, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto

Stenning, David, Assistant Professor, Department of Statistics & Actuarial Science, Simon Fraser University

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