Australian scientists and researchers have discovered a strange object spinning in the Milky Way, which they claim to be unlike anything astronomers have ever seen before.
The object was first discovered by a university student who was working on his undergraduate thesis. The initial discovery showed that the object releases a huge burst of radio energy three times every hour.
“The pulse comes every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork,” said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the investigation after the student’s discovery, using a telescope in the Western Australian outback known as the Murchison Widefield Array.
Pulsars are an example of other objects in the universe that are known for switching on and off when they release energy, however, Hurley-Walker states that 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been recorded before.
“Finding this object was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.”
The research team is currently working on understanding what exactly it is that they discovered. As they continued to compile and observe data, they came to the conclusion that the object is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, is incredibly bright, and has an incredibly strong magnetic field.
“If you do all of the mathematics, you find that they shouldn’t have enough power to produce these kinds of radio waves every 20 minutes. It just shouldn’t be possible,” Hurley-Walker said.
The object could potentially be something known as an “ultra-long period magnetar,” which researchers have only theorized about existing in the past. It could also be a white dwarf, which would make it a remnant of a collapsed star.
“But that’s quite unusual as well. We only know of one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing as great as this,” Hurley-Walker said.
“Of course, it could be something that we’ve never even thought of—it could be some entirely new type of object.”
“I was concerned that it was aliens. But the research team was able to observe the signal across a wide range of frequencies. That means it must be a natural process, this is not an artificial signal. More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” Hurley-Walker said.
The team’s paper on the object has been published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.