A mysterious object unlike anything that astronomers have seen before has been discovered in our “galactic backyard”. In research published Wednesday, scientists described the strange, spinning mass, which is said to release an enormous burst of energy every 20 minutes.
That radiation, which crosses the line of sight of telescopes on Earth for 60 seconds at a time, is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. It was detected by a team at the Australia-based International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, who were mapping radio waves in the Universe.
They believe that the cosmic flasher could be a super-dense star or a white dwarf – collapsed cores of stars – with a powerful magnetic field. “This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations,” said Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker, an astronomer from Curtin University in Australia 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.” Dr. Hurley-Walker added that the observations match a predicted astrophysical object called an “ultra-long period magnetar”.
She explained: “It’s a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically. “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.”
Curtin University Honours student Tyrone O’Doherty discovered the object using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in outback Western Australia – and a new technique he developed. He said: “It’s exciting that the source I identified last year has turned out to be such a peculiar object.”