The unseen host galaxy and high dispersion measure of a precisely localized fast radio burst suggests a high-redshift origin

Lachlan Marnoch, Stuart D. Ryder, Clancy W. James, Alexa C. Gordon, Mawson W. Sammons, J. Xavier Prochaska, Nicolas Tejos, Adam T. Deller, Danica R. Scott, Shivani Bhandari, Marcin Glowacki, Elizabeth K. Mahony, Richard M. McDermid, Elaine M. Sadler, Ryan M. Shannon, Hao Qiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


FRB 20210912A is a fast radio burst (FRB), detected and localized to subarcsecond precision by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder. No host galaxy has been identified for this burst despite the high precision of its localization and deep optical and infrared follow-up, to 5σ limits of R = 26.7 mag and Ks = 24.9 mag with the Very Large Telescope. The combination of precise radio localization and deep optical imaging has almost always resulted in the secure identification of a host galaxy, and this is the first case in which the line of sight is not obscured by the Galactic disc. The dispersion measure of this burst, DMFRB = 1233.696 ± 0.006 pc cm-3, allows for a large source redshift of z > 1 according to the Macquart relation. It could thus be that the host galaxy is consistent with the known population of FRB hosts, but is too distant to detect in our observations (z > 0.7 for a host like that of the first repeating FRB source, FRB 20121102A); that it is more nearby with a significant excess in DMhost, and thus dimmer than any known FRB host; or, least likely, that the FRB is truly hostless. We consider each possibility, making use of the population of known FRB hosts to frame each scenario. The fact of the missing host has ramifications for the FRB field: even with high-precision localization and deep follow-up, some FRB hosts may be difficult to detect, with more distant hosts being the less likely to be found. This has implications for FRB cosmology, in which high-redshift detections are valuable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)994-1007
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2023


  • fast radio bursts
  • galaxies: distances and redshifts
  • galaxies: general


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