Scientists have discovered what appears to be an incredibly dense star behaving in an unusual manner, possibly an exotic astrophysical object whose existence has only been hypothesized.
For two months in 2018, the object emitted massive bursts of energy roughly three times per hour when viewed from Earth by the Murchison Widefield Array telescope in Western Australia.
It may be the first known „ultra-long period magnetar,” they said. This type of neutron star is highly magnetized and rotates slowly, unlike the fast-spinning pulsars that appear to blink on and off in milliseconds or seconds from Earth.
It’s amazing that the universe is still surprising us, „said lead author Natasha Hurley-Walker of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at Curtin University in Australia, , lead author of the study published this week in the journal Nature.
Its north and south poles may be continuously beaming strong radio waves. From Earth’s perspective, that beam appeared to come on for 30–60 seconds every 18 minutes and 11 seconds. From afar, it looks like a lighthouse with a rotating light that blinks on and off.
It was discovered while mapping celestial radio wave sources.
„This is a completely new type of source,” Hurley-Walker said. People didn’t expect neutron stars to be able to produce such bright radio emission, even though the Milky Way is full of them. Finding something so unexpected and amazing is a dream come true. „
It is roughly 4,200 light years away from Earth, or 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) in a year.
When it’s on, it’s very bright. It’s one of the most visible radio sources. Tyrone O’Doherty, a Curtin ICRAR node doctoral student, discovered the object.
It’s a transient astrophysical object that appears to turn on for a short time. „Slow transients” like supernovae can appear suddenly and then fade away months later. Pulsars are „fast transients,” constantly blinking. Until now, these transitions have been elusive.
The universe’s densest objects are neutron stars and pulsars. They are about 7.5 miles (12 km) in diameter but have more mass than our sun. The researchers say this could be powered by an extremely magnetic neutron star called a magnetar.
According to Curtin ICRAR node astrophysicist and study co-author Gemma Anderson, the slow rotation could be due to age.
In fact, Anderson believes it’s more likely to be a „first” than „unique.”
It could also be a white dwarf, or something else entirely, Hurley-Walker speculated.
It hasn’t been found since 2018.
The object is being monitored by many radio telescopes in the hope it re-energizes.
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