Scientists have detected what appears to be an incredibly dense star behaving unlike anything else ever seen – and suspect it might be a type of exotic astrophysical object whose existence has until now been only hypothesized, a radio astronomer said on Friday.
The object, spotted using the Murchison Widefield Array telescope in outback Western Australia, unleashed huge bursts of energy roughly three times per hour when viewed from Earth during two months in 2018, researchers said.
“We don’t know of any kind of object that does that. We know about pulsars, which are radio sources which turn on and off very quickly, you know, a few times a second. And we know about exploding stars, that they change over months, but to find something that was switching on and off like clockwork every 20 minutes was just really really unexpected,” said radio astronomer Natasha Hurley-Walker at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Australia, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Nature.
Scientists said it may be the first known example of what is called an “ultra-long period magnetar”. This is a variety of a neutron star – the compact collapsed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova – that is highly magnetized and rotates relatively slowly, as opposed to fast-spinning neutron star objects called pulsars that appear from Earth to be blinking on and off within milliseconds or seconds.