Astronomers have discovered a ‘really strange’ object 4,000 light-years from Earth, according to a study published in Nature said Wednesday. The object disappears from view every two minutes and emits a giant burst of radio waves three times per hour.
The mysterious object was first seen by Curtin University student Tyrone O’Doherty while observing the skies in outback Western Australia. “It’s exciting that the source I identified last year turned out to be such a peculiar object,” O’Doherty said. noted in a press release.
The object, which astronomers say is unlike anything else they’ve discovered, sends out a huge beam of radiation that every 20 minutes becomes one of the brightest in the sky. It also rotates and disappears every two minutes.
Space objects that “turn on” and off in the night sky are called “transients” by scientists, and they’re relatively common.
“When you study transients, you observe the death of a massive star or the activity of the remnants it leaves behind,” said ICRAR-Curtin astrophysicist and co-author of the study, Dr. Gemma Anderson.
Slower transients, such as supernovae, can appear within days and persist for months.transients, like some neutron stars, “turn on and off” several times per second. But transients between these two speeds are rare, and the latest discovery – in the words of the astronomers – is “really bizarre” and “completely unexpected”.
“It was a bit scary for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does this,” said astrophysicist Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the team of scientists. “And it’s really, really close to us – about 4,000 light-years away. It’s in our galactic backyard.”
Hurley-Walker described the mysterious object as smaller than the sun but bright and emitting highly polarized radio waves three times per hour. These radio pulses indicate it has an “extremely strong” magnetic field – and may match a predicted astrophysical object whose existence has never been proven. Scientists call the theoretical object an “ultra long period magnetar”.
“It’s a type of slowly rotating neutron star whose theoretical existence has been predicted,” Hurley-Walker said. “But no one expected to directly detect one like this because we didn’t expect them to be so bright. Somehow it converts magnetic energy into radio waves much more efficiently. than anything we’ve seen before.”
Astronomers currently believe it may be a rare type of neutron star or a collapsing white dwarf, but they need to observe it again to determine if it is. a stroke of luck or a new type of space object.