Cosmologists have found a peculiar item radiating customary explosions of energy, dissimilar to anything seen previously. Found by a group from the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), three times each hour the item emits blasts so strong they are probably the most splendid radio sources overhead.

“This item was showing up and vanishing more than a couple of hours during our perceptions. That was totally unforeseen. It was somewhat creepy for a space expert since there’s nothing known overhead that does that,” said lead analyst Natasha Hurley-Walker in an assertion. “Furthermore it’s actually very near us – around 4,000 light-years away. It’s in our cosmic lawn.”

An artist’s impression of a magnetar.
An artist’s impression of what the object might look like if it’s a magnetar. Magnetars are incredibly magnetic neutron stars, some of which sometimes produce radio emissions. Known magnetars rotate every few seconds, but theoretically, ultra-long period magnetars could rotate much more slowly. ICRAR

The team’s theory is that the object could be a hypothesized object called an ultra-long period magnetar. Magnetars are neutron stars with very powerful magnetic fields which give off bursts of high-energy radiation, but those discovered so far spin much faster and emit pulses every 10 seconds or so. The much slower rate of pulses from this object, at around one every 20 minutes, suggests it must be spinning much more slowly.

Although longer-period magnetars have been predicted, none have been discovered to date. “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 team is planning to look for signs of similar objects in archival data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope which they used for the initial observations. They are also continuing to observe the object to see if it starts emitting pulses again. “If it does, there are telescopes across the Southern Hemisphere and even in orbit that can point straight to it,” Hurley-Walker said. “More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before.”

The research is published in the journal Nature.

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