Viral: Astronomers have discovered a mysterious spinning object in the Milky Way that emits a radio wave beam every 18 minutes – and is unlike anything seen before.
The object has been observed to release a huge burst of radio energy for a whole minute every 18 minutes. Researchers estimate that it is around 4,000 light years away and could be a new class of slowly rotating neutron star with an ultra-powerful magnetic field that can be detected by radio telescopes.
The object, first spotted by a university student working on his undergraduate thesis, releases a huge burst of radio energy three times every hour.The observation is known as a radio transient, which refers to an object that periodically releases brief flashes of radio signals, as if it is switching on and off in space.
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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.
While there are other objects in the universe that switch on and off — such as pulsars — Hurley-Walker said 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been observed before.
Finding this object was “kind of spooky for an astronomer,” she said, “because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.” The research team is now working to understand what they have found, there are still many mysteries to untangle.
“If you do all of the mathematics, you find that they shouldn’t have enough power to produce these kind of radio waves every 20 minutes,” Hurley-Walker said. “It just shouldn’t be possible.” The next step for the researchers is to look for more of these strange objects across the universe.