Whether or not alien life exists elsewhere in the universe has yet to be seen. What scientists are sure of, however, is of the existence of a radio signal that previously radiated out from deep within the Milky Way galaxy. A new study published in the Astrophysical Journal says the phantom signal — named ASKAP J173608.2-321635 by its discoverers — was detected 13 times between April 2019 and August 2020.
As far as researchers can tell, the radio signal matches no known object on Earth, nor does it match any object scientists know is floating about the cosmos.
"This object was unique in that it started out invisible, became bright, faded away and then reappeared," study co-author and University of Sydney astrophysicists Tara Murphy said about the paper in an accompanying press release. "This behaviour was extraordinary."
Researchers initially thought the signal could be the result of a pulsar — a type of a dying star — but that was quickly ruled out.
"At first we thought it could be a pulsar – a very dense type of spinning dead star – or else a type of star that emits huge solar flares. But the signals from this new source don't match what we expect from these types of celestial objects," study lead author, and University of Sydney PhD student Ziten Wang said.
He added, "The strangest property of this new signal is that it is has a very high polarisation. This means its light oscillates in only one direction, but that direction rotates with time."
According to the study, the brightness of the object at hand "varies dramatically, by a factor of 100" and seemingly switches on and off at random, with no rhyme or reason as to when it appears.
Murphy and Wang hope to keep their eye on the object as technology continues to advance in the near future in hopes that they may discover what this particular signal may end up being.
"Within the next decade, the transcontinental Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope will come online. It will be able to make sensitive maps of the sky every day," Murphy concluded. "We expect the power of this telescope will help us solve mysteries such as this latest discovery, but it will also open vast new swathes of the cosmos to exploration in the radio spectrum."
Cover photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty Images