The objects “do not seem to correspond to any known type of object”, report the scientists who made the puzzling discovery. The experts do not yet have any definitive explanation of how they may have formed.
Four of the objects have so far been found, all of them circular and otherwise unexplained.
“[The objects] may well point to a new phenomenon that we haven’t really probed yet
Kristine Spekkens, astronomer at the Royal Military College of Canada
Three of the anomalies have strange glowing edges.
The researchers speculate the “unexpected class of astronomical objects” could be a spherical shock wave from a dramatic event elsewhere in the galaxy.
This could include the blast from powerful events such as fast radio bursts, gamma-ray bursts or neutron star mergers.
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These remain mysterious in themselves and would have taken place long ago.
The scientists report in their new paper the objects may also represent a new view of an already known phenomenon.
The objects could be the consequence of looking at the jets of a radio galaxy down the end, for instance, meaning they may appear circular because we are facing down the ‘barrel’ of the blast.
The astronomers also suggest the objects are possibly a variety of different things, which have been spotted at the same time because of new observational capabilities instead of representing a single category of discovered object.
The objects were spotted by a new generation of radio telescopes, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.
They were discovered while scientists were working to conduct the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) survey, which aims to map the entire sky.
The astronomers who found the object have named them Odd Radio Circles (ORCs), a name chosen because the scientists otherwise “lack an explanation for their origins.”
Circles are often found in astronomical images and can be a sign of a whole host of different objects.
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They can be everything from the leftovers of a supernova, a planetary nebular, or looking at something such a proto-planetary disc or star-forming galaxy from a certain angle.
They can also be a sign of a bug and may come about when there are bright sources from incorrectly-calibrated telescopes.
However, the newly discovered circles do not appear to be explained by any of those more traditional objects.
Instead, the researchers note, they “appear to be a new class of astronomical object”.
Three of the objects were found when researchers looked through images taken from the survey.
Another – slightly different object – was spotted in archival data originally taken in March 2013.
This suggests the objects are unlikely to be a problem with the survey or a glitch in the telescope used to conduct it.
Astronomers will continue to survey the sky in the hope of finding the source of the strange circles, they conclude.
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