Space scientists have detected unusual radio waves coming from the center of the Milky Way. The energy signal is unlike any phenomenon studied before and may suggest a previously unknown stellar object, according to a new study published in the Journal of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney’s School of Physics.
The main author of the new study, Ziteng Wang, a doctoral student at the University of Sydney’s School of Physics, came to the attention of the object’s brightness, which varies dramatically in a sequence of turns on and off without specific logic.
“The strangest property of this new signal is that it has a very high polarization. This means that its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates over time,” Wang said in a press release.
The team initially thought it might be a pulsar – a very dense type of neutron star (dead) that spins quickly, or a type of star that emits large solar flares. The signals from this new source of radio waves, however, do not match what astronomers expect from these types of stars.
The shifting object was named after its coordinates in the night sky: ASKAP J173608.2-321635
“This object was the only one that started out invisible, turned bright, disappeared and then reappeared. This behavior was extraordinary,” said study co-author Tara Murphy, a professor at the Sydney Institute of Astronomy and the School of Physics at the University of Sydney.
The object was initially located during a survey using the radio telescope known as the ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder), which has 36 antennas that work together like a telescope at the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in Western Australia.
Other observations were conducted with the Parkes radio telescope, in New South Wales, also in Australia, and with the MeerKAT telescope, from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, in South Africa.
However, the Parkes telescope failed to detect the source.
“We then tried the more sensitive MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. As the signal was intermittent, we watched it for 15 minutes over weeks, hoping to see it again,” Murphy said in the statement.
“Fortunately, the signal returned, but we found that the font’s behavior was dramatically different – the font disappeared in a single day, although it lasted weeks in our previous observations by ASKAP.”
Murphy said more powerful telescopes like the Square Kilometer Array could help solve the mystery. The Square Kilometer Array will be the world’s largest radio telescope, to be completed in the next decade.