Astronomers have discovered a repeating radio outbursts near center of Milky Way that does not match any previously known phenomenon.
According to a new paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and posted on the preprint server arXiv, the energy source is extremely finicky, appearing bright in the radio spectrum for weeks at a time and then completely vanishing within a day. This behavior doesn’t quite fit the profile of any known type of celestial body, the researchers wrote in their study, and thus may represent “a new class of objects being discovered through radio imaging.”
The radio source — known as ASKAP J173608.2−321635 — was detected with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope, situated in the remote Australian outback. In an ASKAP survey taken between April 2019 and August 2020, the strange signal appeared 13 times, never lasting in the sky for more than a few weeks, the researchers wrote. This radio source is highly variable, appearing and disappearing with no predictable schedule, and doesn’t seem to appear in any other radio telescope data prior to the ASKAP survey.
The object is even more unique in that it apparently has not been emitting any energy in any other wavelengths, including optical, infrared, or X-rays, something that such repeating outbursts usually do. So far about four such objects have been seen near the galactic center, though this new object’s behavior is not quite the same as the other three.
This is not a signal from alien life. Its energy and nature clearly makes it some form of astronomical object, though what that object is remains unknown. That such objects have so far only been detected near the center of the galaxy, where the environment is especially strange because of the presence of the supermassive black hole dubbed Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star), suggests we really do not understand the astronomical possibilities in such regions.
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