Astronomers witnessed something incredibly strange in space that is “unlike anything” they have ever seen before. According to information provided by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), a team of experts who were mapping the universe’s radio waves noticed an incredibly odd space object that was emitting massive bursts of energy three times every hour.
As the object was spinning in space, a radiation beam was ejected from it which scientists were able to observe. The beam could be seen for one full minute and occurred every twenty minutes. Incredibly, it was one of the brightest radio sources ever witnessed in space.
In the release, astrophysicist and team leader Natasha Hurley-Walker went into further details, “This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations, that was completely unexpected. It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there is nothing known in the sky that does that,” adding, “And it’s really quite close to us – about 4,000 light-years away. It’s in our galactic backyard.”
Scientists have previously documented space objects that “turn on and off” (these are called “transients”). They can occur at different frequencies as slow transients can happen for a few days and disappear within a few months (supernovas do this), while fast transients are extremely quick – some lasting just seconds or even milliseconds (pulsars do this).
However, the space object that was seen turning on for one minute had never been witnessed before. Since it is exceptionally bright, smaller than our sun, and sends out blasts of high-polarized radio waves, it is believed that the object contains a strong magnetic field. As for what it is, experts think that it may possibly be either a neutron star or a white dwarf.
Hurley-Walker went on to say that it could be a previously hypothesized space object known as an “ultra-long period magnetar”. “It’s a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically.” “But nobody expected to directly detect one like this because we didn’t expect them to be so bright.” “Somehow it’s converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more effectively than anything we’ve seen before.”
While it remains a mystery, researchers are keeping a close eye on the object in case it decides to briefly turn back on. And if it does, they will be able to see it with numerous telescopes, such as the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in Western Australia. “If it does, there are telescopes across the Southern Hemisphere and even in orbit that can point straight to it,” said Hurley-Walker. The research has been published in the journal Nature where it can be read in full.
Images showing where the mysterious object is located in space can be viewed here.