(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 powerful burst of radio energy three times an hour.
“It pulses every 18.18 minutes like clockwork,” said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the study after the student’s discovery, using the Murchison Widefield Array telescope in outback Western Australia.
While there are other objects in the universe that turn on and off, such as pulsars, Hurley-Walker says 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been observed before.
The sighting of this object was “a little creepy for an astronomer,” she said, “because there’s nothing in the sky that does that.”The research team is now working to understand what they have found.
By looking at years of data, they were able to establish several facts: the object is about 4,000 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 all the calculations, it turns out that it should not have enough power to produce such radio waves every 20 minutes,” Hurley-Walker said. “It just shouldn’t be possible.”
The object could be something that the researchers theorize might exist but has never been observed—an “ultra-long-period magnetar.”It could also be a white dwarf, the remnant of a collapsed star.
“But it’s also pretty unusual. We only know of one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing like it,” Hurley-Walker said. “Of course, it could be something we didn’t even think about — some completely new type of object.”
When asked if a powerful serial radio signal from space could have been sent by some other life form, Hurley-Walker admitted: “I was concerned that it could be aliens.”
But the research team was able to observe the signal over a wide range of frequencies.“That is, it should be a natural process, not an artificial signal,” Hurley-Walker said.The next step for researchers will be to search for more of these strange objects throughout the universe.
“More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-time event or a huge new population that we’ve never seen before,” Hurley-Walker said.
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