Mysterious pulsar spins too slowly with 7 different pulse patterns

A sudden burst of light from the sky revealed a strange star that rotates incredibly slowly, making it impossible to determine if it's a pulsar or another celestial object.

According to experts, the object, known as PSR J0901-4046, "challenges our existing understanding of how these systems grow" because of its 76-second pirouette and the fact that it produces radio waves, both of which are rare for pulsars.

Pulsars are neutron star-like objects that rotate quickly. These are very dense, city-sized objects that are only slightly larger than our sun. They're considered to be formed by huge stars exploding in supernovae. Pulsars, on the other hand, usually revolve multiple times every second.

PSR J0901-4046 and its slow pirouette are so unusual, and unlike any of the other 3,000 pulsars in our Milky Way galaxy. Researchers stated in a statement Tuesday that the newly discovered object might be part of a "theorized class of ultra-long period magnetars with extremely strong magnetic fields," researchers said in a statement Tuesday (May 31).

"It took an eagle eye to recognize it for something that was possibly a real source because it was so unusual looking," Ian Heywood, a radio astronomer at the University of Oxford and a coauthor on the study, said in a statement.

The flare was discovered by researchers using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. It was first discovered using the ThunderKAT software, which searches for radio transients, and then the researchers enlisted the help of the MeerTRAP (More Transients and Pulsars) program at the University of Manchester.

The researchers were able to validate the pulsar's flash period and determine its position in the sky by working together, according to the announcement.

The radio emission was only observable for 0.5 percent of the pulsar's rotation cycle, according to lead author Manisha Caleb, an astronomer at the University of Sydney, making the finding "very fortuitous"."The majority of pulsar surveys do not search for periods this long, and so we have no idea how many of these sources there might be," Caleb continued in the release.

This item is tough to categorize, according to the experts. While the radio waves imply it's a pulsar, the polarization of the pulses (combined with how the signal changes) suggests it's a magnetar, a form of neutron star with extremely strong magnetic fields that have a significant impact on their surroundings.

The star appears to pulse in at least seven distinct ways, which might suggest variations in the star's seismic activity, but scientists aren't sure what to make of what they're seeing.

Also, the 76-second rotation is more like to that of a white dwarf, which is the cooling core of a star the size of our sun that sloughs off its outer layers after it runs out of nuclear fusion fuel. However, scientists have yet to find the correct signal in the star's spectrum that would indicate it is a white dwarf.

The researchers believe that more data is needed to better identify what they are seeing. They don't know how long the radio emissions have been going on, because radio signals don't normally catch this sort of signal, even if the item is in a well-studied region.

"It is therefore likely that there are many more of these very slowly spinning sources in the galaxy, which has important implications for how neutron stars are born and age," Caleb added.