Unknown space object beaming out radio signals every 18 minutes remains a mystery

Astronomers discovered a celestial object unleashing massive bursts of energy while tracking radio waves across the universe, and it's unlike anything they've ever seen before.

The three-times-per-hour radiation was emitted by the spinning space object, which was discovered in March 2018. It became the brightest source of radio waves visible from Earth at the time, operating as a celestial beacon.

It might be a remnant of a collapsed star, such as a dense neutron star or a dead white dwarf star with a strong magnetic field, or it could be something else entirely, according to astronomers.

A study on the discovery published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations," said lead study author Natasha Hurley-Walker, an astrophysicist at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, in a statement.

"That was completely unexpected. It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there's nothing known in the sky that does that. And it's really quite close to us -- about 4,000 light-years away. It's in our galactic backyard."

Maybe it a Dead Star?

Transients are flaming space objects that appear to turn on and off.

In a statement, research coauthor Gemma Anderson, an astronomer at ICRAR-Curtin, stated, "When investigating transients, you're seeing the death of a huge star or the activity of the debris it leaves behind." "'Slow transients,' like supernovae, may occur for a few days and then fade away after a few months. Fast transients, such as pulsars, are neutron stars that flash on and off in milliseconds or seconds."

However, this new, dazzling thing only turned on for roughly a minute every 18 minutes. The findings could fit the description of an ultra-long period magnetar, according to the researchers. Magnetars normally flare in a fraction of a second, but this one takes a little longer.

"It's a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically," Hurley-Walker said. "But nobody expected to directly detect one like this because we didn't expect them to be so bright. Somehow it's converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more effectively than anything we've seen before."

The researchers will continue to monitor the object to see whether it switches back on, while looking for signs of other similar objects in the meanwhile.

"More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we'd never noticed before," Hurley-Walker said.

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