Skip to main content

Strange object giving off bursts of energy unlike anything known

Astronomers have discovered a strange object giving off regular bursts of energy, unlike anything seen before. Discovered by a team from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), three times per hour the object gives off bursts so powerful they are some of the brightest radio sources in the sky.

“This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations. That was completely unexpected. It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that,” said lead researcher Natasha Hurley-Walker in a statement. “And it’s really quite close to us — about 4,000 light-years away. It’s in our galactic backyard.”

Related Videos
An artist’s impression of a magnetar.
An artist’s impression of what the object might look like if it’s a magnetar. Magnetars are incredibly magnetic neutron stars, some of which sometimes produce radio emissions. Known magnetars rotate every few seconds, but theoretically, ultra-long period magnetars could rotate much more slowly. ICRAR

The team’s theory is that the object could be a hypothesized object called an ultra-long period magnetar. Magnetars are neutron stars with very powerful magnetic fields which give off bursts of high-energy radiation, but those discovered so far spin much faster and emit pulses every 10 seconds or so. The much slower rate of pulses from this object, at around one every 20 minutes, suggests it must be spinning much more slowly.

Although longer-period magnetars have been predicted, none have been discovered to date. “It’s 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 team is planning to look for signs of similar objects in archival data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope which they used for the initial observations. They are also continuing to observe the object to see if it starts emitting pulses again. “If it does, there are telescopes across the Southern Hemisphere and even in orbit that can point straight to it,” Hurley-Walker said. “More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before.”

The research is published in the journal Nature.

Editors' Recommendations

Strangely chonky exoplanet has astronomers puzzled
Artist’s conception of a gas giant exoplanet orbiting around a Sun-like star. The young exoplanet HD 114082 b revolves around its Sun-like star within 110 days at a distance of 0.5 astronomical units.

Astronomers recently discovered a hefty exoplanet orbiting a star similar to our sun. At just 15 million years old, this chunky planet is a baby by galactic standards, old, but it has researchers puzzled due to its tremendous density.

The planet, called HD 114082 b, is similar in size to Jupiter, but seems to have eight times its mass. It's common for astronomers to discover gas giants similar to or larger than Jupiter, but it's very unusual to discover a planet this dense and heavy.  “Compared to currently accepted models, HD 114082 b is about two to three times too dense for a young gas giant with only 15 million years of age,” said lead author Olga Zakhozhay in a statement.

Read more
Mars Express orbiter has relayed data from seven different Mars missions
An artist's impression of Mars Express. The spacecraft left Earth for Mars on 2 June 2003. It reached its destination after a six-month journey, and has been investigating the planet since early 2004.

When a rover is exploring the surface of Mars, it doesn't send data straight back to Earth. That's for two reasons: Firstly, it would require a large, powerful antenna which would be cumbersome and expensive to add, and secondly, because of the rotations of Earth and Mars any location on the surface would be pointing in the wrong direction some of the time.

So, to get data back from Mars surface missions, we use a network of Mars orbiters, which collect data from rovers and landers and relay it back to Earth. Known as the Mars Relay Network, these orbiting spacecraft take on relay duties in addition to their scientific roles observing the red planet. Recently, one of these orbiters, the European Space Agency (ESA)'s Mars Express set a new record for relaying data from seven different Mars surface missions.

Read more
How to watch SpaceX launch two media satellites this morning
COSMO-SkyMed mission ready for launch.

This morning, Saturday, November 12, there's a chance to catch an early SpaceX launch as the company sends two communications satellites into orbit. The weather is looking good for the launch at 90% favorable, and the launch will be livestreamed so you can watch along at home.

Intelsat G-31/G-32 Mission

Read more