'Spooky' object emitting giant bursts of energy found in nearby space

26 January 2022, 17:44

The Milky Way as viewed from Earth, with the position of the mysterious object marked with a star icon
The Milky Way as viewed from Earth, with the position of the mysterious object marked with a star icon. Picture: Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin)

By Daisy Stephens

A mysterious object unlike anything ever seen before has been spotted by astronomers in nearby space.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Observations of the "spooky" item show it is releasing a giant burst of energy three times an hour.

As it spins through space, the strange object sends out a beam of radiation - and for one minute in every twenty, it is one of the brightest objects in the sky.

"This object was appearing and disappearing over a few hours during our observations," said Astrophysicist Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, from the Curtin University, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Australia, who led the team that made the discovery.

Read more: Four-tonne Space X Falcon 9 rocket on course to hit the Moon 'in March'

Read more: 'Humiliated' lecturer tells LBC Met Police are 'pathetic' for 'degrading' strip-search

"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 lightyears away.

"It's in our galactic backyard."

The location of the source in the sky in January 2022, again marked with a star icon
The location of the source in the sky in January 2022, again marked with a star icon. Picture: Stellarium

The researchers think the object could be a neutron star or a white dwarf - collapsed cores of stars - with an ultra-powerful magnetic field.

Dr Hurley-Walker added that the observations match a predicted astrophysical object called an "ultra-long period magnetar".

"It's a type of slowly spinning neutron star that has been predicted to exist theoretically," she explained.

"But nobody expected to directly detect one like this, because we didn't expect them to be so bright.

"Somehow it's converting magnetic energy to radio waves much more effectively than anything we've seen before."

Read more: Alan Carr's husband Paul Drayton jailed after drunkenly reversing into police car

Read more: Sainsbury's asks shoppers to continue wearing masks despite end of Plan B rules tomorrow

Curtin University Honours student Tyrone O'Doherty discovered the object using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope in outback Western Australia - and a new technique he developed.

"It's exciting that the source I identified last year has turned out to be such a peculiar object," he said.

NASA launch new asteroid killer space craft

Objects that turn on and off in the universe are not new, and astronomers call them transients, with some appearing over the course of a few days and disappearing after a few months, and others flashing on and off within milliseconds or seconds.

However, ICRAR-Curtin astrophysicist and co-author Dr Gemma Anderson said finding something that turned on for just a minute made the new discovery unusual.

She explained that the mysterious object was incredibly bright and smaller than the sun, emitting the kind of radio waves that suggested it had an extremely strong magnetic field.

The researchers are now monitoring the object to see if it switches back on, and plan to search for more of these unusual objects in the vast archives of the MWA.

"More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we'd never noticed before," Dr Hurley-Walker said.

The findings are published in the Nature journal.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a Czech Defence Capabilities Event at Prague-Kbely Airport in Prague

Blinken condemns ‘poison’ of Russian misinformation

The judge looked stunned as the defendant appeared before the virtual court room

Judge left dumbfounded as man with suspended licence appears in US court - from behind wheel of car

Andrew Marr's Election Diary: After the first week of election campaigning, writes Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr's Election Diary: After the first week of election campaigning, have we learned anything?

Pressure signals could be used to locate the missing plane

MH370 breakthrough as investigators plan to use sea explosions to solve mystery of aircraft's location

More than eight police forces in England have experienced a decline in total officer numbers compared to May 2010.

A quarter of England's police forces have fewer officers now than when Tories came into power, LBC analysis reveals

French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden

Biden to make first state visit to France after attending D-Day commemorations

Fiona Beal, 50, from Northampton, stabbed Nicholas Billingham, 42, to death between October and November 2021

Teacher who murdered boyfriend and buried him in garden jailed for at least 20 years

Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, 2008

Man who ‘identifies’ as The Joker from Batman accused of trying to kill ex-girlfriend who he called 'his Harley Quinn'

Soldiers help inter the remains of recently identified Greek soldiers who were killed in Cyprus in 1974s

Families reclaim remains of 15 Greek soldiers killed in Cyprus in 1974

Angela Rayner has defended Diane Abbott amid an ongoing row over the MP's future

'No reason' why Diane Abbott can't stand in general election as Labour MP, says Angela Rayner

Richard Tice has called for a police crackdown on ‘cash only’ barber shops

'Barber shops are fronts for money laundering drug money' claims Reform UK leader Richard Tice after LBC question

A nine-year-old girl is in critical condition after a firearm was discharged from a motorbike near a restaurant in Hackney.

Girl, 9, in critical condition after being 'innocent victim' in Hackney shooting outside restaurant

Kate will take part in the ceremony next month

Kate will not take part in Colonel's Review ahead of Trooping the Colour ceremony next month, palace confirms

The groom reportedly found out 12 days after getting married.

Shocked groom finds out ‘wife’ is a man who was dressing as a woman just 12 days after getting married

Israel soldiers drive a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border

Two Israeli soldiers killed in West Bank car-ramming attack

Election volunteers count ballots in Johannesburg

Early South Africa election results put ruling ANC below 50%