(ORDO NEWS) — Australian researchers have discovered a strange spinning object in the Milky Way that they say looks like nothing astronomers have ever seen.
The object, first spotted by a university student working on his thesis, emits a huge burst of radio energy three times an hour.
The pulse comes “every 18.18 minutes like clockwork,” said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the study after the student’s discovery, using a telescope in the western Australian outback known as the Murchison Widefield Array.
While there are other objects in the universe that turn on and off, such as pulsars, Hurley-Walker said that 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been observed before.
Finding this object was “pretty creepy for an astronomer,” she said, “because there’s nothing known in the sky that could do that.”
The research team is now working to understand what they have found.After analyzing long-term data, they were able to establish several facts: the object is about 4000 light-years from Earth, incredibly bright and has an extremely strong magnetic field.
But there are still many mysteries to be solved.”If you do the math, you’ll find that an object shouldn’t have enough power to produce these radio waves every 20 minutes,” Hurley-Walker said.
“It just shouldn’t be possible.”The object could be something the researchers theoretically predicted but never saw, called an “extra-long period” magnetar.
It could also be a white dwarf, the remnant of a collapsed star.”But that’s also pretty unusual. We only know of one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing as big as this one,” Hurley-Walker said.
“Of course, it could be something that we never even thought of – it could be some completely new type of object.”
Asked if a powerful, consistent radio signal from space could have been sent by some other life form, Hurley-Walker admitted: “I was worried it was aliens.”
But the research team was able to observe the signal over a wide range of frequencies.”That means it has to be a natural process and not an artificial signal,” Hurley-Walker said.The next step for researchers is to search for more of these strange objects throughout the universe.
“Additional studies and studies will tell astronomers whether this was a rare single event or a huge new population that we’ve never seen before,” Hurley-Walker said.
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