Science & Technology

Never-before-seen bright object discovered in the Milky Way

Sydney, Australia, Jan 27 (EFE).- A group of astrophysicists has discovered a mysterious object in the Milky Way that releases “a giant burst of energy” three times every hour and is unlike anything that has been seen before.

This spinning object, about 4,000 light years away from the Earth and emitting a minute-long beam of radiation, is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) said in a statement on Thursday.

Although this object discovered with the Murchison Widefield Array telescope, located in the Western Australian desert, flashes on and off like pulsars or other bodies in the Universe, it does so “every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork,” which was “completely unexpected,” said Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the investigation following the discovery of the object by Curtin University Honours student Tyrone O’Doherty.

“It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that,” Hurley-Walker, who is from the Curtin University node of the ICRAR, added.

ICRAR-Curtin astrophysicist and co-author Gemma Anderson pointed out that this mysterious object was “incredibly” bright and smaller than the sun and seemed to have a powerful magnetic field.

Anderson said that another peculiarity of this “transient” object, a term used by astronomers to refer to those celestial bodies that turn on and off in the Universe, is that it lights up for about a minute.

“‘Slow transients’—like supernovae—might appear over the course of a few days and disappear after a few months,” she explained. “‘Fast transients’—like a type of neutron star called a pulsar—flash on and off within milliseconds or seconds.”

The observations of the new object match “a predicted astrophysical object called an ‘ultra-long period magnetar’” which is “a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically,” Hurley-Walker 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 ICRAR team is currently monitoring the object to see if it turns on again while also searching the archives of the Murchison Widefield Array telescope for similar objects to determine “whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” Hurley-Walker added. EFE


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