Astronomers have been puzzled by a mysterious near-Earth object that emits powerful bursts of radio waves every 18 minutes and 18 seconds.
The object, which was first discovered by a student named Tyrone O’Doherty in Western Australia, is said to have released giant bursts of energy three times an hour with astonishing regularity.
Scientists say this is “completely unexpected”. Radio astronomer Natasha Hurley-Walker, who conducted a study on the phenomenon, said:
“It was a bit scary for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that. And it’s really pretty close to us, about 4,000 light years away.
“It’s in our galactic backyard.”
Astronomers have speculated that the object, which has a huge magnetic field, could be a neutron star or a white dwarf. Either way, it spins so quickly that Earth regularly receives a burst of radiation for hours or weeks before disappearing and reappearing again.
“The fact that it repeats so regularly (the same rate within one ten thousandth of a second in the three months it has been visible) means that it is very likely to be a rotating object,” said radio astronomer Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led a study on the object.
Steve Chien, head of AI at NASA-JPL, told the Daily Star that such radio signals are of great interest to space scientists because of their potential extraterrestrial connections.
“There are people who think these are signs of an extraterrestrial civilization reaching out to us. All I would say about it, because I’m not an astrobiologist, is that it’s an explanation and I don’t think we can rule it out.
“But is that the most likely explanation? That wouldn’t be the consensus of the scientific community. It’s interesting because we’re constantly learning new things about the universe and, you never know, that’s what what I would say.”