Scientists have detected "strange signals" emanating from the Milky Way's core, leading them to suspect the peculiar radio waves are originating from an undiscovered star object.
According to NASA, objects throughout the galaxy have shifting magnetic fields that create radio waves. A star emits light over the electromagnetic spectrum during its life cycle, including certain wavelengths that are invisible to the naked eye. The amount of light emitted by a star is determined by where it is in its life cycle.
However, the radio waves detected by a group of international scientists are remarkable for a number of reasons.
The object's brightness varies greatly, and it will randomly switch on and off, Ziteng Wang, lead author of research on the discoveries published in The Astrophysical Journal, said.
The most unusual feature of this new signal is its extremely high polarization. "This implies its light only oscillates in one direction, but that direction rotates with time," Wang explained in a statement, adding that they had never seen anything like it before.
Wang explained that his team initially assumed the signal came from a pulsar, which is a dense, quickly rotating star that has collapsed and emits solar flares as a result of its collapse.
Solar flares can last anywhere from minutes to hours, making them somewhat unpredictable. The radio waves "don't fit what we expect from these types of celestial objects," thus that was ruled out as a source.
The finding was made in west Australia by a team from Germany, the United States, Canada, Spain, France, South Africa, and Australia.
The object, dubbed ASKAP J173608.2-321635 after the radio telescope and space coordinates where it was located, was discovered as part of an effort to find previously unseen space objects.
Tara Murphy, Wang's dissertation supervisor and a professor at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, described the radio wave's behavior as "exceptional" when it was initially detected.
"This item was unusual in that it was initially invisible, then got bright, faded away, and reappeared," Murphy explained.
Astronomers got six radio waves over the course of nine months last year, but when they looked for it visually, they couldn't detect anything. The signal did not reappear until a few weeks after they utilized a radio telescope in South Africa.