For decades, outer space has been the birthplace of scientific discoveries. And every time they take a closer look at it, scientists realize that their questions far outweigh their answers. So was the case when astronomers recently discovered an object in our galaxy that they had never seen before.
Located in the Milky way, about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, the mysterious entity belongs to a group of objects which astronomers call 'transients.' These objects "turn on and off" in space, either within milliseconds or over the course of a few days. But, unlike anything they had ever seen before, the object emitted an intensely bright light for about a minute and did this 3 times an hour. It has a very powerful magnetic field and releases pulses of energy "every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork," according to astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. She revealed that she had initially thought it could be a signal from an alien civilization. However, the team ruled out the possibility after finding out the object's signal was detectable on a wide range of frequencies. This meant that massive amounts of energy were being used to emit the signal.
According to the team who made the discovery, the object matched an astrophysical prediction previously made by scientists. "It's a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically," Hurley-Walker said. These objects are core remnants that are left behind after stars shed their outer material and face a gravitational collapse. They then begin to spin extremely quickly and are only detectable by pulsars that flash on and off within seconds or milliseconds. However, Prof Andrew Norton, an astrophysicist at Open University, explained that neutron stars are expected to fade away as they begin to lose their speed. Because of this, astronomers were stunned to find out the mysterious object they recently discovered was still detectable, if it was, in fact, a neutron star. "Somehow it's converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more effectively than anything we've seen before," Hurley-Walker explained.
There is clearly much more work to be done here. And we're all waiting to find out what answers (or further questions) lie ahead. Until then, stay tuned.