That? Strange radio signal captured from space, astronomers are disoriented

Scientists from the applied research agency CSIRO and the University of Sydney captured a strange intermittent radio signal coming from spaceand they have not been able to identify what it is.

According to Manicha Caleb, professor at the University of Sydney, and Emil Lenc, researcher at CSIRO, in an article in The Conversation, This signal “is like nothing astronomers have seen before”.

Experts explain that they commonly study signals called “radio transients,” which come from pulsars, which are rotating neutron stars that expel immense jets of energy; some are sporadic, others with some predictable pattern. But This new finding does not fit these characteristics already known.

In fact, It is the longest signal ever seen and with a strange pattern. “Not only does it have a cycle of almost an hour long, but over several observations we saw it sometimes emitting long, bright flashes, sometimes fast and weak pulses, and sometimes nothing at all,” they point out.

“We cannot fully explain what is happening here. Most likely it is a very unusual neutron star, but we cannot rule out other possibilities“, they warn.

The strange radio signal is a mystery

The scientists, whose study was published in Nature, called this signal ASKAP J1935+2148, because it was discovered with the CSIRO ASKAP radio telescope in Australia, which has a wide field of view. There, they were searching for pulsars when they noticed the intermittency.

“The signal jumped because it was made up of “circularly polarized” radio waves, meaning the direction of the waves spirals as the signal travels through space,” they explain.

After identifying it, they observed it for several months, adding analysis from another even more sensitive radio telescope, the MeerKAT, in South Africa. Thus they confirmed that It has the longest period of all: 53.8 minutes.

Additionally, They were able to observe it in 3 different states. First, in linearly polarized bright pulses which lasted between 10 and 15 seconds; after, in much weaker circularly polarized pulses which lasted just 370 milliseconds; while in its third state it did not emit any pulse.

“These different modes, and the switching between them, could result from an interaction of complex magnetic fields and plasma flows from the source itself with strong magnetic fields in the surrounding space,” the astronomers theorize.

Although similar patterns had been observed before from neutron stars, no signal had been as long as that of ASKAP J1935+2148, which influences what is known so far about them.

For now, they point out that It could be a slowly spinning neutron star, although they do not rule out that it is a white dwarf, which is a star in its last years of life that moves slowly.. But they need more research to know what it really is.

“This object could lead us to reconsider our decades-old understanding of neutron stars or white dwarfsparticularly in how they emit radio waves and what their populations are like within our galaxy,” they conclude.

 
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