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Blasts Of Flashing Radio Waves Coming From Mysterious Space Object Shock Scientists

by : Hannah Smith on :
Blasts Of Flashing Radio Waves Coming From Mysterious Space Object Shock Scientists
Blasts Of Flashing Radio Waves Coming From Mysterious Space Object Shock Scientists (Alamy)

A 'mysterious' object sending out blasts of radio waves three times an hour is puzzling scientists.

The object, which was first spotted last year, is believed to be around 4,000 lightyears away from Earth - a comparatively short distance in the grand scale of the universe - with one astronomer describing it as in our 'galactic backyard.'

It's not aliens - or at least, it's probably not aliens - but rather more likely to be an extremely fast spinning type of neutron star, with an extremely powerful magnetic field.

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Pulsar (Alamy)
Pulsar (Alamy)

The object is spinning so quickly that for one minute in every 20 it becomes one of the most powerful sources of radio waves in the sky, flashing waves at earth three times every hour. It's smaller than the sun, but brighter, and sends out 'highly-polarised' radio waves.

First discovered by a Tyrone O’Doherty, a PhD student at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, the object has confounded scientists in the months since, though it's since gone dark, leaving astronomers waiting to see if it reemerges in order for them to learn more about its identity.

Objects in space that flicker on and off are known as 'transients.' They're often the remnants of dying stars, and can vary in how fast they emit waves. Some, called pulsars, flicker in a span of milliseconds, while dying stars, called supernovas, take days.

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What's strange about this object is that it fits neither of these profiles, leading some astronomers to suggest it could be something called a ultra-long period magnetar - a type of neutron star which has been theorised about, but has never been seen before in reality.

Neutron star (Alamy)
Neutron star (Alamy)
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'It’s a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically, but nobody expected to directly detect one like this because we didn’t expect them to be so bright', Natasha Hurley-Walker, from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research said, while acknowledging it could equally be something completely different. 'Somehow it’s converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more effectively than anything we’ve seen before.

'It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there's nothing known in the sky that does that,' she said, per NBC News.

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A study of the object co-led by Hurley-Walker was recently published in Nature journal.

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Hannah Smith

Hannah is a London-based journalist covering news and features for UNILAD. She's especially interested in social and political activism and culture.

Topics: Technology, Space, Science