A team of astronomers in Australia identified, during 2020, a set of radio waves coming from the center of the galaxy. After these ‘first encounters’, they tried to calibrate more accurate monitoring instruments, but the signal ended up disappearing, taking on a different behavior from what it had had before.
Ziteng Wang, an astrophysicist who led the study published in the Astrophysical Journal, explains that “the strangest property of this new signal is that it has a very high polarization. This means that light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates over time.”
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In practice, the light was coming towards the Earth in a spin, with an unknown rhythm and reason, and ended up disappearing after being detected. The first detection was made with readings from a radio telescope.
Tara Murphy, co-author of the study, states that “this object is unique in the sense that it started out invisible, became shiny, disappeared and then reappeared. This behavior is extraordinary”. The object is eventually detected again with MeerKAT, a telescope located in South Africa, but it disappeared on the day itself and has not been seen again.
The researchers attribute this disappearance to instabilities in the magnetic field, leading the team to believe that the object has not stopped emitting, but is emitting only sporadically. As for the origin, there are multiple theories, none of which are completely illuminating, with the object having characteristics similar to a class known as the Galactic Center Radio Transients, a group of objects that emits radio waves from near the center of the Milky Way.
The community’s expectation is that the Square Kilometer Array, the world’s largest radio telescope, with 130,000 antennas, can be used in future observations and end up picking up traces of this signal again.
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