Space experts are investigating a mysterious series of radio waves coming from the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, with a news study saying they could be coming from some kind of stellar object that has remained unknown until now.
"The strangest property of this new signal is that it has a very high polarization," said Ziteng Wang, lead author of a new study in The Astrophysical Journal and a doctoral student in the School of Physics at The University of Sydney, CNN reported.
"This means its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates with time," he said in a news release.
Wang said the object's brightness varies and has a signal that appears to randomly turn on and off. At first, his team thought the object could be a pulsar, which is a dense, quickly spinning neutron (dead) star, or that it could be a star that sends out huge solar flares, but the signals do not match what astronomers usually get from such stars.
The object is named for its coordinates, ASKAP J173608.2-321635. It was initially spotted through a survey of the sky through the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio telescope, or ASKAP, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. Other observations were done through the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory's MeerKAT telescope and with the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales.
"This object was unique in that it started out invisible, became bright, faded away, and then reappeared. This behavior was extraordinary," study coauthor Tara Murphy, a professor at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and the School of Physics at The University of Sydney said in the press release.
The Parkes telescope at first did not detect the source of the radio waves, so the researchers switched to the MeerKAT, which is more sensitive, according to Murphy.
"Because the signal was intermittent, we observed it for 15 minutes every few weeks, hoping that we would see it again," Murphy said.
"Luckily, the signal returned, but we found that the behavior of the source was dramatically different – the source disappeared in a single day, even though it had lasted for weeks in our previous ASKAP observations."
It might take more powerful telescopes, like the Square Kilometre Array, which has been compared to an astronomical equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider, to solve the mystery behind the waves, she added.
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