Scientists Detect Radio Signals From Galaxy's Center, Have No Clue What It Is
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Scientists Detect Radio Signals From Galaxy’s Center, Have No Clue What It Is

“It seems different to all types of astronomical objects we know, it may be a new type of object,” said the study’s lead author.

Scientists have detected a new cluster of unknown radio waves radiating from the center of our galaxy. The signals, according to scientists, do not correspond to any known space object.

Researchers from the University of Sydney discovered a light formation at the heart of the Milky Way six times between January and September of 2020, according to a new report published by the American Astronomical Society. Every time, it was a different size and polarized, which means it rotated in a corkscrew pattern at a constant rate. All of this suggests that this is a new class of space object, such as a new type of star.

“It seems different to all types of astronomical objects we know, it may be a new type of object,” said Ziteng Wang, lead author of the study and a PhD student in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney in an email to Motherboard. “If this source is an example of a previously undiscovered class of object, it would be interesting to study these types of sources to further understand their origin.”

The scientists quickly called the signal cluster ASKAP J173608.2321635, a reference to the object’s coordinates in space as well as the telescope Wang and his team used: the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder Variables and Slow Transients (ASKAP VAST). The device, located in Western Australia, has 36 dish antennas and uses high survey speeds to identify a wide variety of radio waves, making it suitable for picking up an item with variable frequencies, such as the one Wang and his team found.

“Our eye cannot distinguish between circularly polarized light and unpolarised one, but ASKAP has the equivalent of polaroid sunglasses to filter it out,” Wang said. “These kinds of sources are really rare, usually we only found ten out of thousands of sources polarized in one observation.”

After spotting the signal with the ASKAP, the researchers utilized the South African MeerKAT telescope, which has 64 antennas, to identify it. The second device, which operated at a slightly different frequency and had a stronger capability to detect pulsing radio waves, provided the researchers with a second look at the signal, which was critical in narrowing a few possible theories for what the object could be, according to Wang.

“We started the MeerKAT observation from 2020 November, and we detected nothing until February, 2021,” Wang said. “Without another detection, it would be hard to know further details of the signal. We were really excited at that time.”

The photos are unlike anything known to the scientific world, and Wang and his team were unable to agree on a single explanation.

They write in the paper that the object may be any of a variety of things. It could be a low-mass or low-brightness star, a pulsar, a magnetar, or a Galactic Center Radio Transient, a catch-all term for bursts of radio activity from the galaxy’s center that have no credible explanation.

However, none of these explanations fit what Wang and his team found in the star: It lacks a low-mass star’s infrared wavelengths, a pulsar’s regular pulsations, and a magnetar’s x-ray waves. It could be called a GCRT, but those “are still a mystery,” Wang says. “We don’t even know if all GCRTs share a common origin, it is hard to say.”

The authors believe the star could represent a new type of galactic objects that can only be discovered by radio imaging surveys, which particularly record radio waves. If true, it might pave the way for research into a new discipline of astronomy or a new region of the Milky Way.

“We need to do further investigations,” Wang said. “We might be able to use this kind of source as a clue to research something exciting, such as the expansion of the universe, fate of stars.”

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