Scientists cannot explain the radio signal in deep space, what is it?

By Roberto Scucci | Updated

Rotating neutron stars (known as pulsars) are generally known to emit radio waves at regular intervals, ranging from seconds to milliseconds. As these neutron stars approach the end of their life cycle, they slow down and are no longer called pulsars, but are classified as magnetars. According to The Conversation, scientists have been baffled by the discovery of a pulsar (or magnetar) that has been emitting radio waves in a 22-minute cycle for more than 30 years.

This discovery is changing our understanding of the life cycle of neutron stars because when a pulsar slows down and becomes a magnetar, its radio emissions should only be detectable for a few years at most, not decades. In other words, we are seeing an outlier when we compare our current understanding with what is being discovered.

Scientists have been baffled by the discovery of a pulsar (or magnetar) that has been emitting radio waves in a 22-minute cycle for more than 30 years.

When searches sifted through archived data from The Very Large Array telescope in New Mexico, they came across a magnetar (now designated GPM J183910) that has been active since 1988, which raises many questions about its origin and sustained visibility.

Compared to other pulsars and magnetars in the database, it is evident that this more than 30-year-old but recently discovered magnetar has something else going on. Based on their research, the scientists stated that each pulse is typically produced by its source every 1,318.1957 seconds, which is what we currently believe to be the average pulse duration in most cases (plus or minus a tenth of a millisecond).

Also, when a pulsar slows down and becomes a magnetar, it’s a clear indication that we are nearing the end of its life cycle and will stop emitting radio waves altogether.

Compared to other pulsars and magnetars in the database, it is evident that this more than 30-year-old but recently discovered magnetar has something else going on.

GPM J183910, however, boasts a 5-minute pulse and a 17-minute interval between pulses, which is causing researchers to wonder how, why, and whether the source itself is actually a pulsar, a magnetar, or something else. While this unique discovery emits radio waves in a similar way to other pulsars and magnetars, its long lifetime challenges our current theories and understanding of pulsars.

The crab pulsar

In theory, GPM J183910 could hold the key to better understanding whether neutron stars have a whole other phase in their life cycle that is unique to what we currently know about pulsars and magnetars. Radio astronomer Natasha Hurley-Walker, who is the study’s lead author, hopes to find other magnetars that function similarly, so this anomaly can be compared with other data.

Are aliens involved?

And if you’re getting excited about the possibility that extraterrestrial life is responsible for such a strange celestial emission, we’re here to disappoint you just a little. When pulsars were first discovered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell and her colleagues in 1967, they too made that assumption.

In fact, they even named the first pulsar they discovered “LGM 1,” which is an acronym for “little green men.” But given the widespread presence of pulsars in our known universe, and how consistent and uniform most of them are in their radio frequency emission, it quickly becomes apparent that pulsars are simply a part of nature that we are still trying to fully understand.

While we’re a little sad that we haven’t yet come into contact with other intelligent life forms in our universe, we should still be excited by the possibility of a new pulsar variant that will be instrumental in developing a better understanding of how our universe works.


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