HomeNewsWhat Is This ‘Spooky’ Object Astronomers Just Discovered in Our ‘Galactic Backyard’?

What Is This ‘Spooky’ Object Astronomers Just Discovered in Our ‘Galactic Backyard’?

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo credit: Arkadiusz Warguła via Getty Images)

In ancient times, space was a place of mystery. Countless civilizations created stories to explain what they saw in the sky. Now, we have the technology to reveal what truly lurks out there. This has allowed us to understand a fraction of what’s going on in the endless expanse of space. However, sometimes this technology leads to new mysteries and more questions. Recently, astronomers discovered a strange object in space that’s closer than it seems

Researchers with the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research discovered the strange space object. Astronomers believe that it is a type of neutron star. However, it doesn’t act like other stars. Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker with ICRAR told Phys.org, “This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations.” That, she said, was unexpected. “It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.”

The astrophysicist said that the strange space object expels a strong beam of radiation for one minute out of every twenty. Other objects, like some types of stars, seemingly turn off and on like this. However, most do so much more quickly. Until now, objects that behave this way only existed in theory.

Hurley-Walker went on to say that the strange space object is “in our galactic backyard.” It’s only 4,000 light-years away. To everyday folks, that might seem far away. However, if compare that distance to the endless expanses of space it doesn’t seem that far away.  

What is the Strange Space Object?

Dr. Hurley-Walker said that this strange space object matches the behavior of something called an ultra-long period magnetar. “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.”

The strange object’s brightness truly sets it apart from other objects in space. “Somehow it’s converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more efficiently than anything we’ve seen before,” said Hurley-Walker. This suggests that the object has an incredibly strong magnetic field.

The astrophysicist plans to continue monitoring the strange space object in hopes that it turns back on. If it does, she says, telescopes here on Earth as well as in orbit will be able to get a better look at the object. Additionally, she’ll be scanning the sky for more of these objects. “More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” she said.

Honors Student Makes Discovery

Curtin University Honors student Tyrone O’Doherty discovered the strange object while using the Murchison Widefield Array telescope to scan space. About his discovery, the Ph.D. candidate said, “It’s exciting that the source I identified last year had turned out to be such a peculiar object.”