Space & Science

Astronomers shocked by mysterious radio waves that appear to defy physics

It’s really there.


New observations of a distant galaxy cluster have puzzled a group of scientists who wonder if they’ve discovered a new form of physics.

In their new paperresearchers Tessa Vernstrom from the University of Western Australia and Christopher Reisely from the Italian University of Bologna describe how their discovery of a series of large objects emitting low-frequency radio waves in a cluster of galaxies about 800 million light-years away seems to defy the laws of physics.

Using radio and X-ray telescopes, researchers have discovered three large radio-emitting objects – a radio fossil, a radio relic and a radio halo – in the galaxy cluster Abell 3266.

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These types of objects are relatively rare, the researchers noted, but not entirely unheard of.


These three objects were too faint to detect until researchers applied a complicated algorithm to telescope imaging of the galaxy cluster and, in doing so, found the ancient remnants of a supermassive black hole that created the cluster of galaxies.

The radio relic of Abell 3266 in particular has caught the attention of researchers, an arc of sonic boom-shaped radio waves that are “powered by shockwaves [traveling] through the plasma”, as the they noted in a piece for The conversation.

This relic is unlike any radio object scientists have ever seen before, according to the team, due to its highly unusual concave shape, which has earned it its nickname “the relic of bad sense.”

“If it’s a shockwave, you might think it would bend like an arc around the edge,” Vernström said ABC Australia“but this one returned.”

wrong turn

The researchers now face a conundrum.

“Our best physical models simply can’t fit the data,” the researchers wrote in The conversation. “It reveals gaps in our understanding of how these sources evolve – gaps that we are working to fill.”

This means the team has to go back to the drawing board.

“Perhaps there’s some kind of new physics going on out there that we haven’t fully understood,” Vernstrom concluded, “when our models can’t match observations.”

READ MORE: Galaxy cluster Abell 3266 contains plasma shock wave and fossil remains of black hole feeding frenzy [ABC Australia]

Learn more about radio waves: Scientists baffled by radio waves coming from our own galaxy


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