By: Nicolas Wright
Originally discovered in March of 2018, a spinning object about 4,000 light years away, was spotted, beaming out radiation three times per hour. It became the brightest source of radio waves viewable from Earth, almost acting as a Celestial Lighthouse.
Astronomers believe it to be a remnant of a collapsed star, a dense neutron star or dead white dwarf star with a strong magnetic field– or it could be something different entirely. Astrophysicist at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Natasha Hurley-Walker released this statement to the journal Nature:
“This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations, that was completely unexpected. It was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that. And it’s really quite close to us — about 4,000 light years away. It’s in our galactic backyard.”
Flaring Space Objects that appear to turn on and off are known as Transients. Studying these Transients means watching the death of a massive star, or the activity of the remnants it left behind. The appearance or action of the remnants can be classified to Slow (which occurs over the course of a few days and disappears after a few months) and Fast Transients (which flash on and off within milliseconds or seconds.
This new object that only turns on for about a minute every 18 minutes matches up with the definition of an ultra-long period magnetar. A Magnetar is a neutron star with an extremely strong magnetic field that usually flares by the second but this object takes longer. This type of slowly spinning neutron star has been predicted to exist but nobody expected to directly detect one like this, especially one that is very bright. It’s somehow converting magnetic energy into radio waves much more effectively than we’ve seen before.
Researchers will continue to monitor the object to see whether it turns back on. In the meanwhile, they are on the search for evidence of similar objects.