(CNN) – Space experts have detected unusual radio waves coming from the center of the Milky Way. A new study indicates that the energy signal is different from any phenomenon studied before and could point to a previously unknown stellar body.
The brightness of an object varies widely, and the signal is turned on and off seemingly randomly, said Ziteng Wang, lead author of the new study in The Astrophysical Journal and a doctoral student at the University of Sydney’s School of Physics.
“The strangest characteristic of this new signal is that it is very highly polarized. This means that its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates over time,” he said in a press release.
The team initially thought it could be a pulsar, a very dense type of fast-spinning neutron star (dead), or a type of star that emits massive solar flares. However, the signals from this new source of radio waves do not match what astronomers expect from these types of stars.
The fluctuating object is named by its coordinates in the night sky: ASKAP J173608,2-321635.
Study co-author Tara Murphy, a professor at the Sydney Institute of Astronomy and University of Sydney School of Physics, said in the statement.
The object was initially discovered during a sky survey using the Australian Pathfinder Radio Telescope, known as ASKAP, which contains 36 dishes that work together as a single telescope at the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. Follow-up observations were made using the Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales and the MeerKAT Telescope at the Radio Astronomy Observatory in South Africa.
However, the Parkes telescope could not detect the source.
“We then tested the more sensitive Meerkat radio telescope in South Africa. Because the signal was choppy, we watched it for 15 minutes every few weeks, hoping to see it again,” Murphy said in the statement.
“Fortunately, the signal returned, but we found that the behavior of the source was significantly different – the source disappeared in a day, although it persisted for weeks in our previous ASKAP observations.”
More powerful telescopes, such as the planned Square Kilometer Array, could help solve the mystery, Murphy said. The array is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope expected to be completed within the next decade.
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