New image shows mysterious radio circles in space

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There’s a new kind of mysterious object in space, and after capturing their best image yet, astronomers are one step closer to understanding these celestial oddballs.

They are known as odd radio circles, or ORCs. While the thought of ORCs might bring to mind the humanoid Goblins from the “Lord of the Rings” books, these fascinating objects have baffled scientists since they first discovered them in 2020.

Scientists found the strange radio circles using the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, operated by Australia’s national science agency Csiro, or Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, two years ago.

These space rings are so massive that they measure about a million light-years across – 16 times larger than our Milky Way galaxy.

Astronomers believe that circles take a billion years to reach their maximum size, and they are so large that objects have expanded beyond other galaxies.

Now, a new image captured by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s MeerKAT telescope provides more detail and information. (MeerKat is short for Karoo Array Telescope, preceded by the Afrikaans word for “more.”) The image and results were published Monday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

3 possible theories

Initially, astronomers thought the circles could be galactic shock waves or even the throats of wormholes, among a number of ideas. Now, researchers have narrowed down a number of theories to three.

The strange radio circles could be the remnants of a massive explosion at the center of a galaxy, not unlike what happens when two supermassive black holes merge.

Second, they could be powerful jets pumping energetic particles from the galactic center.

Or, the third possibility is that they could be the result of a starburst shock wave triggered by the birth of stars in a galaxy. Only five radio circles have been found in space so far.

“We know that ORCs are rings of faint radio emissions around a galaxy with a highly active black hole at its center, but we still don’t know what causes them, or why they are so rare,” said the study’s co-author. Ray Norris, a professor at the University of Western Sydney and Csiro, in a statement.

Until now, strange radio circles have only been found by telescopes that observe across radio wavelengths. Visible light, infrared and X-ray telescopes have yet to detect them, despite their enormous size.

As radio telescope astronomers find more of them to observe, these observations could help fill in the many gaps in knowledge about these curious new objects.

“People often want to explain their observations and show that they are to the best of our knowledge. For me, it’s much more exciting to discover something new that challenges our current understanding,” said study author Jordan Collier, user support specialist in astronomy and bioinformatics at the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy in South Africa, in an announcement.

Collier produced the new image from data collected by MeerKAT. The MeerKAT telescope, located in the Karoo region of South Africa, includes an array of 64 radio antennas and has been in operation since July 2018. The powerful telescope is sensitive to weak radio light.

The collaboration will allow astronomers to find more strange radio circles – as well as more sensitive radio telescopes in the future.

New high resolution telescope

MeerKAT is a precursor to an upcoming telescope, the transcontinental Square Kilometer Array or SKA, which is under construction in South Africa and Australia.

“Without a doubt, the SKA telescopes, once built, will find many more ORCs and will be able to tell us more about the life cycle of galaxies,” Norris said in a statement.

“Until SKA becomes operational, ASKAP and MeerKAT are ready to revolutionize our understanding of the Universe faster than ever before.”
The array will include thousands of satellite dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas in an effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope.

Despite the fact that these dishes and antennas will be in two different parts of the world, together they will create a telescope with over a million square meters of collection area, which means astronomers can survey the entire sky much faster than than with other telescopes.

It will also exceed the Hubble Space Telescope’s image resolution and image large portions of the sky in sensitive detail.

Source: CNN Brasil

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