Source Unknown But Likely Natural
The new burst, dubbed GCRTJ1745-3009, has an unknown source. Current data cannot reveal how far away it lies in the direction of the galactic center. The center of the galaxy is about 26,000 light-years from Earth. The radio source could be a lot nearer or a lot fartherpossibly even beyond the galaxy. The transmission's intriguing characteristics beg the question: Might that source be intelligent?
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"There's no reason to expect anything but a natural cause," Hyman said. "There are so many classes of objects we don't know about out there."
Yet from what's known so far, the source of the radio burst seems to be of unknown type.
Hyman notes that the source could be an object like a pulsar (a pulsating neutron star) or "magnetar" (a neutron star with an extreme magnetic field), or more like a flare star (a star whose brightness fluctuates rapidly) or brown dwarf (a "failed star" that never ignited). In either case, its properties don't fit those of known sources, so it may well be an entirely new type.
"Whatever it is, it's certainly a very interesting object, that's for sure," Hyman said.
Kulkarni added that the burst might well represent a completely new type of object but suggested that it could also be a dying pulsar of a type he calls a "burper."
"It's a less fun possibility, I'll be the first one to admit," he said. "It's known that when pulsars age, they start sputtering along, so the question is, do they disappear [quickly] from the radio sky, or do they just sputter more and more, burping their way into death?"
If the latter is true, there could be hundreds of millions of such objects out there, awaiting study in what Kulkarni described as a "stellar graveyard."
The mystery may move closer to resolution later this month when Hyman and his colleagues attempt to pinpoint the location of the burst's elusive source. An observation is scheduled at the Very Large Array (VLA), a massive radio observatory on New Mexico's Plains of San Agustin, where the burst was first detected.
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