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Space radio waves
via Twitter @sydney_uni

Scientists detect mysterious radio signals from inside our galaxy

‘It seems different to all types of astronomical objects we know’

As if the Milky Way’s never-ending abyss of unidentified space wasn’t terrifying enough, scientists in Australia have discovered a mysterious cluster of radio signals coming from the centre of our galaxy.

According to NASA, radio waves can be produced by any object with a changing magnetic field, such as the Sun, planets, and meteors. This time, however, scientists are unable to place where the signals are coming from.

In a new paper in the American Astronomical Society, researchers from the University of Sydney revealed that they detected this light formation six times between January and September last year. The data also noted that in each sighting, the waves varied in intensity, rotated in a corkscrew pattern towards Earth, and “blinked” on and off, growing brighter over time.

So… what is it? While alien life isn’t entirely out of the question, scientists are assuming that the signals stem from a “new class of stellar object”, such as a low-mass star, a strong pulsar star, a magnetar, or a Galactic Center Radio Transient. Each hypothesis, however, does not entirely fit the description of the new discovery.

“It seems different to all types of astronomical objects we know,” explained Ziteng Wang, a PhD. student at the University of Sydney and lead author of the paper. “If this source is an example of a previously undiscovered class of object, it would be interesting to study these types of sources to further understand their origin.” 

Continuing, Wang stated: “These kinds of sources are really rare, usually we only found ten out of thousands of sources polarised in one observation.” 

Officially titled ASKAP J173608.2−321635 after their coordinates, the signals are incapable of being analysed by the human eye. Instead, the scientists used the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder Variables and Slow Transients (ASKAP VAST) telescope to capture the movements.

Since then, the group has launched a second investigation including a new telescope and a new international team of scientists. Although, the radio waves seem to have changed in behaviour – disappearing after one day, instead of lasting for weeks as they did before.

“We need to do further investigations,” said Wang, who plans to continue research using a transcontinental Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. “We might be able to use this kind of source as a clue to research something exciting, such as the expansion of the universe, fate of stars.”

Check out an animation of the mysterious radio waves, made by the University of Sydney, below.