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Mysterious “cosmic burpers” emit strange radio waves from the heart of the galaxy

Astronomers studying the central region of the Milky Way have discovered a new source of cosmic radio waves so bizarre that it’s hard to imagine what kind of object could send them.

The radio waves vary in intensity, oscillate in a single direction, rotate in time, and randomly turn on and off with no discernible pattern, according to researchers at the University of Sydney, who published their data in a news story. study in the Astrophysical Journal.

“We have never seen anything like it,” said Ziteng Wang, Ph.D. a student at the University of Sydney and lead author of the article, said in a statement.

“At first we thought it could be a pulsar – a very dense type of spinning dead star – or a type of star that emits huge solar flares. this new source does not match what we would expect from these types of celestial objects, ”Wang added.

Since the radio waves do not match any known pattern or source, they might represent signals from a completely unknown class of objects, but what that object might be is hard to imagine given the bizarre nature of the signals themselves. same.

“Looking towards the center of the Galaxy, we found ASKAP J173608.2-321635, named after its contact details,” said Wang’s doctoral director Tara Murphy, a professor at the University of Sydney. “This object was unique in that it was initially invisible, became shiny, faded and then reappeared. This behavior was extraordinary.

However, the bizarre nature of this new discovery doesn’t mean it’s entirely unique. In recent years, astronomers have discovered that the universe is filled with radio waves that we are also able to detect.

“The information we have [about the object] has parallels with another emerging class of mysterious objects known as galactic center radio transients, including one dubbed the “cosmic burper,” said Wang’s co-supervisor David Kaplan, a professor at the University of the Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“Although our new object, ASKAP J173608.2-321635, shares some properties with GCRTs, there are also differences,” he added. “And we don’t really understand those sources, anyway, so that adds to the mystery.”

Analysis: radio astronomy opens up new frontiers we never knew existed

Radio astronomy is a rapidly growing specialization thanks to new radio telescopes capable of detecting a wider range of radio signals, making stars and other objects in the universe that might be effectively invisible to us in visible light discernible when seen in infrared or ultraviolet spectra. .

In recent years, all kinds of astronomical phenomena like supernovae and alien objects like black holes have been imaged using radio astronomy, including the 2019 image of the supermassive M87 black hole at the center of the galaxy, the whole first image of this type.

With new telescopes coming online in the coming years, such as the James Webb Telescope, we plan to replace the Hubble Telescope when it launches in late 2021, more of the universe will be accessible from a way that we are just beginning to realize.

“Over the next decade, the Square Kilometer Array transcontinental radio telescope will be brought online,” said Professor Murphy. “It will be able to create sensitive maps of the sky every day. We expect the power of this telescope to help us solve mysteries such as this latest discovery, but it will also open up vast new expanses of the cosmos to the world. exploration in the radio spectrum.

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