In an ordinary research series, astrophysicists discover an unknown object in space. This had previously only been discussed in theory.
Perth/Munich – The universe and the endless expanses of space will remain a great mystery for a long time to come. Although mankind and astronomy have been able to push their research further and further in recent decades, objects and phenomena keep appearing at regular intervals that can hardly be explained. An Australian research team recently came across an unknown celestial body that previously only existed in theory.
Mysterious celestial body: Australian researchers surprised by discovery
The researchers of International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Australia, were amazed when they came across a mysterious object in space while trying to map radio waves. “The object appeared and disappeared within several hours during our observations,” says lead astrophysicist Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker quoted in an ICRAR press release. Emitting gigantic bursts of energy three times an hour, the object was one of the brightest radio sources in the sky during that time.
After a first guess, the researchers believe that the object could be a neutron star or a white dwarf – in technical jargon a small, very compact old star. “It was totally unexpected,” Hurley-Walker continues. “It was kind of scary for an astronomer, because there is nothing in the sky that does something like that.” At a distance of almost 4000 light years, the mysterious celestial body is not far from Earth: “It’s almost in our galactic backyard.” , says Hurley-Walker proudly.
“It’s exciting that the source I discovered last year turned out to be such a special object,” says student Tyrone O’Doherty, who discovered the object using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope. Bodies or objects that “switch themselves on and off” are not uncommon and are referred to as “transient”. “When you study transients, you observe the death of a giant star or the activity of a remnant,” explains astrophysicist Dr. Gemma Anderson.
Mysterious discovery: object puzzles researchers
While it’s normal to encounter objects that change brightness slowly (“slow transient”) or quickly (“fast transient”), encountering something that “turns on” for a minute is in Anderson’s eyes very strange. In general, the unknown object is incredibly bright and smaller than the sun, she continues. The researchers also assume that a strong magnetic field must be present because the object emitted strongly polarized radio waves.
What is certain, however, is that the find is an unprecedented discovery. According to Hurley-Walker, the observations are consistent with an astrophysical object previously only theoretically predicted, an ultra-long-period magnetar. “It is a kind of slowly rotating neutron star, the existence of which was theoretically predicted,” says the researcher. Nevertheless, no one expected to discover such an object. Hurley-Walker also reports that its ability to convert magnetic energy into radio waves much more effectively is beyond anything researchers have seen before.
Australians want to further investigate the object
The object will now continue to be monitored, another switch-on should not be missed. Hurley-Walker assures that if the worst comes to the worst, there are numerous telescopes in the southern hemisphere and even in orbit that could look directly there. In addition, the archive of the MWA telescope is to be examined for clues. “Further discoveries could tell astronomers whether this was a rare, unique occurrence or a massive new population that we have not yet discovered,” believes Hurley-Walker confidently.
Researchers are also currently warning of a solar storm, the effects of which we could also feel on earth. (to)
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