A quite mysterious object was found in our universe by an Australian research team. The object seemingly appears to be emitting energy at a constant period.
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In research published Wednesday, scientists described the strange, spinning mass, unlike anything that astronomers have seen before, which is said to release an enormous burst of energy every 20 minutes.
Among the brightest radio sources in the sky, that radiation traverses the line of sight of telescopes on Earth for 60 seconds at a time.
The team at the Australia-based International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, who were mapping radio waves in the Universe, detected it.
They think the cosmic flasher is a super-dense star or a white dwarf (a star’s collapsing core) with a strong magnetic field.
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“This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations,” said an astronomer from Curtin University in Australia, Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the team.
“That was completely unexpected. It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.
“And it’s really quite close to us – about 4,000 lightyears away. It’s in our galactic backyard.”
The object was detected in the Australian outback using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope.
It’s what’s known to astronomers as an object in the night sky that turns on and off – a transient, such as a dying star.
There are two kinds of transients – “slow transients” and “Fast transients”. Slower ones appear over the course of several days and vanish after a few months, such as a stellar explosion called a supernova.
“Fast transients” flash on and off within seconds or even milliseconds, such as a type of neutron star called a pulsar.
The newly found object is remarkable in that it matches neither of these categories, broadcasting radio waves across the galaxy in minute-long bursts.
Dr Gemma Anderson, study co-author, said that the space thingamajig is smaller than the Sun but incredibly bright.
It has a powerful magnetic field, as suggested by firing out highly-polarised radio waves.
Dr Hurley-Walker said the observations match the description of a hypothetical object called an “ultra-long period magnetar”.
“It’s a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically,” she said.
“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.”
The crew is continuing to track the object with the MWA in order to figure out what it is.
“More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” Dr Hurley-Walker added.