Strange radio signal discovered coming from the middle of the Milky Way

Orbit of planet in space.
Photo credit Getty Images

Maybe it’s because it’s trick-or-treat time, but the Milky Way has been in the news lately.

Not that Milky Way. The huge one we’re all floating in! Still, this story is kind of spooky.

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After it was recently discovered that the largest comet ever seen is making its way to our solar system, now comes news that there are strange radio waves coming from the center of the Milky Way.

But unlike the more reassuring conclusions of that comet discovery, as far as these radio waves, scientists are so far at a loss for what exactly it is.

According to CNN, a study out of Australia says that the mysterious energy signal is unlike any phenomenon studied before, and could suggest a previously unknown stellar object.

The detected brightness of the object varies dramatically; and the signal it’s sending goes on and off at random, said Ziteng Wang, lead author of the new study in The Astrophysical Journal and a doctoral student in the School of Physics at The University of Sydney.

"The strangest property of this new signal is that it has a very high polarisation,” said Wang. “This means its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates with time.”

As is often the case with such far-away mysteries, scientists have juggled and dropped some theories. At first the Aussie scientists thought it might be a pulsar, a very dense type of rapidly spinning neutron (dead) star, or a type of star that emits huge solar flares. But the signals do not match that theory.

While they’re not yet sure what the phenomenon is, they have named it, based on its coordinates in the night sky: ASKAP J173608.2-321635.

The team tried a few different hi-tech telescopes, but the signal continued to be elusive. “Because the signal was intermittent, we observed it for 15 minutes every few weeks, hoping that we would see it again," said Tara Murphy, a professor at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and the School of Physics at The University of Sydney.

"Luckily, the signal returned,” Murphy continued, “but we found that the behaviour of the source was dramatically different -- the source disappeared in a single day, even though it had lasted for weeks in our previous... observations."

Murphy said more powerful telescopes may help solve the mystery.

For now, keep your eyes on the sky...

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