2 years later, this rare signal still has astronomers scratching their heads

What could it be?

Astronomers have discovered a strange radio signal coming from the centre of the Milky Way (our galaxy) and they can’t quite figure out what it is.

The signal itself isn’t brand new, and astronomers have been trying to figure out exactly where it’s coming from for over 2 years. The beautifully named ‘ASKAP J173608.2−321635’ has been detected 13 times between April 2019 and August 2020 at random times and exhibits a range of unusual characteristics that make it very different from other radio sources that have been picked up.

“This object was unique in that it started out invisible, became bright, faded away and then reappeared,” said Tara Murphy, an astrophysicist at the University of Sydney and co-author on the paper, in a press release. “This behaviour was extraordinary.”

The team of astronomers tried to identify the signal as a variety of different objects including a low-mass star, a pulsar, and a transient magnetar (yeah, we don’t know what that one is either), without success. The team now says it may represent a new class of objects discovered through radio imaging surveys.

What makes this signal so rare is that the source is something called ‘circularly polarized’, which you don’t really need to understand, you just need to know that much less than 1% of sources have this characteristic.

Due to the irregular nature of the source and low sample numbers, it might be a long time until Astronomers can figure out exactly what is causing this strange anomaly.

Related Science News: Woolly mammoths might roam the arctic for the first time in 10,000 years

“Did someone say, Aliens!?” Well, no. While it’s almost guaranteed not to be extraterrestrial life, if someone could prep Will Smith, so we have someone ready to jump onto an alien ship, punch it in the face, and say “Welcome to Earth”, I think we would all sleep better at night.

Featured image: Hristo Fidanov via pexels.com