Astrophysicists are baffled by a strange energy signal recently detected in the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, CNN reports.
The radio signal, picked up by a telescope in Australia, is unlike any phenomenon scientists have seen before and could suggest a previously unknown stellar object, according to a new study.
Upon its initial discovery, researchers said it appeared 13 times between April 2019 and August 2020, never having lasted more than a few weeks in the sky.
The object’s brightness seemed to undergo extreme changes, and its signal seemed to turn on and off at random.
Ziteng Wang, lead author of a new study in The Astrophysical Journal and a doctoral candidate at the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, said: “The strangest property of this new signal is that it has a very high polarization. This means that its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates over time.”
At first, scientists assumed the signal was from a pulsar, which is a very dense, rapidly spinning (dead) neutron star, or a type of star that emits solar flares.
But upon further investigation, the strange signals don’t match what astronomers expect from a known celestial body.
“This object was unique in that it was initially invisible, became shiny, fainted and then reappeared. This behavior was extraordinary,” said Tara Murphy, study co-author, professor at the ‘Sydney Astronomical Institute and the University of Sydney’s School of Physics, in the statement.
After the initial discovery in Australia, follow-up observations were attempted with the Parkes Radio Telescope in the New South Wales and South Africa Radio Astronomical Observatory MeerKAT Telescope.
While the Parkes Telescope failed to detect the source, South Africa-based research has produced results.
“We then tried out the more sensitive MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. As the signal was intermittent, we watched it for 15 minutes every few weeks, hoping to see it again,” Murphy said in the statement.
“Fortunately the signal returned, but we found that the source’s behavior was drastically different – the source was gone in just one day, even though it had lasted for weeks in our previous ASKAP observations.”
According to Live Science, some experts are wondering if the source of the radio waves could be a mysterious class of objects known as the Galactic Center Radio Transient (GCRT), a glowing radio source that lights up and decays near the center. of the Milky Way, usually over the course of a few hours.
Currently only three GCRTs have been confirmed, and all of them appear and disappear much faster than this new ASKAP item. But the few known GCRTs glow with similar brightness to the mysterious signal, and their radio surges are never accompanied by x-rays.
In any case, some scientists hope that the long-awaited construction of powerful telescopes shed new light on the phenomenon.
One of these telescopes is the Square Kilometer Array, which is described as an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope.
It is expected to be completed within the next decade.
In the meantime, scientists are doing what they can to better understand the mysterious object, which has been named after its coordinates: ASKAP J173608.2-321635.