A New Cosmic Phenomena Was Discovered and Nobody Knows What it Is


A New Cosmic Phenomena Was Discovered and Nobody Know What it Is

Galaxy NGC 5128, with the flaring object highlighted in the square. Image credits NASA / J.Irwin et al. 2016
Galaxy NGC 5128, with the flaring object highlighted in the square. Image credits NASA / J.Irwin et al. 2016

It’s no surprise the universe is big; huge in fact – infinite, to go even one step further. And we often times forget that we’re part of that universe, and there’s basically nothing between us and it, even though the sky looks blue during the day and we pretty much no longer see the stars during the night; on the account of the many lights we generate.

In any case, only a fool would believe that we’ve discovered everything there is to discover and that we know every cosmic phenomenon happening out there. In fact, we’re still not entirely sure just how gravity works, only that it does. And given that every object out there is over 90% empty space, we still don’t really know why things don’t simply pass through each other.

Now, two mysterious objects from distant galaxies have been observed to erupt in some truly dramatic display of X-ray bursts, and astronomers are struggling to figure out what these cosmic phenomena are exactly.

An unusual X-ray flare took place back in 2005 near the NGC 4697 galaxy. Jimmy Irwin, an astronomer at the University of Alabama, then set out to look other similar instances throughout the universe. He and his team set out to look for other such cosmic phenomena by shifting through archival data collected by the NASA Chandra Observatory, which is monitoring over 70 different galaxies. In their research, they stumbled upon two other instances of X-ray flares in two different galaxies which might be the same thing as in the previously mentioned galaxy.

During their peak of emissions, these objects can only be classified as ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULX). But due to their behaviour, which doesn’t resemble anything we currently know about, astronomers worldwide are quite baffled by these events.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” says astronomer Jimmy Irwin. “Astronomers have seen many different objects that flare up, but these may be examples of an entirely new phenomenon.”

The first such cosmic phenomena to be detected was near NGC 4636, a galaxy roughly 47 million light-years away, and flared up in February 2003. Well, given its distance from us, the event took place 47 million years ago, but that’s not here nor there. The second event was captured five times between 2007 and 2014 and was found in the NGC 5128 galaxy – 14 million light-years from us.

Even though these preliminary findings may point to the fact that these events happen very rarely in the universe, given the limited time the team had to look into the matter, the answer may be quite the opposite. As far as we know, and especially given the size of the universe, these cosmic phenomena could take place every single day somewhere.

“These flares are extraordinary,” says co-author Peter Maksym from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. “For a brief period, one of the sources became one of the brightest ULX to ever be seen in an elliptical galaxy.”

The closest resemblance we have of these events come in the form of magnetars – young neutron stars with huge magnetic fields. But when these magnetars flare up, the X-rays decline in just a few seconds. Here, however, power builds up much slower, taking about a minute to reach its peak, then slowly declines, taking roughly an hour to do so.

Form what information we do have, it would seem that these cosmic phenomena originate in normal binary systems, which are composed of either a black hole and a neutron star, together with a regular-sized star, just like our Sun. Whatever causes them to act the way they do, doesn’t affect or disrupt the system in which they are located; it would seem.

The full paper was published in the journal Nature, if you’re interested in further detail. In any case, astronomers have developed a few preliminary theories as to what may be happening. It is possible that the X-ray bursts are generated when the neutron star or black hole sucks matter from the companion star.

“Now that we’ve discovered these flaring objects, observational astronomers and theorists alike are going to be working hard to figure out what’s happening,” says Gregory Sivakoff from the University of Alberta.