A team of Australian astronomers have spotted a spinning object in the Milky Way periodically emitting a huge burst of energy, according to the science journal Nature.
Natasha Hurley-Walker, an astrophysicist at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, said the object kept appearing and disappearing over a few hours during the team’s observations, CNN reported.
Hurley-Walker, who led the research team, said that the pulse was recorded every 18.18 minutes “like clockwork”, according to Nature.
Observing that it was “completely unexpected”, Hurley-Walker said it was “kind of spooky” for an astronomer because no known object in the sky has displayed such behaviour before, AFP reported.
“…It’s really quite close to us – about 4,000 light-years away,” she was quoted as saying by CNN. “It’s in our galactic backyard.”
However, she ruled out the possibility of other life forms sending out the bursts of radio energy as the research team observed the signal across a wide range of frequencies, according to AFP.
“That means it must be a natural process,” she was quoted as saying. “This is not an artificial signal.”
By analysing previous data, the researchers have been able to establish that the object is very bright and has a powerful magnetic field.
The researchers have speculated that the unidentified object could be an ultra-long period magnetar.
A magnetar is essentially a neutron star with a strong magnetic field.
The researchers also said that the object could a white dwarf – a remnant of a collapsed star.
Hurley-Walker said that is unusual as well since there is only one white dwarf pulsar that is known to researchers and it is not as powerful as what her team observed.
The researchers plan to look for more of these objects to understand if this was a one-off event or if there are more examples of it.