• Astronomers have spotted a new class of radio objects in space that has never been documented before. 
  • The researchers ruled out most possible explanations but a few remain, including that the signals are the leftover remnants of some cosmic event.
  • In a new research paper, the scientists offer their best guesses, but can’t say for certain what they saw.

When astronomers used high-powered telescopes to peer deep into space they never know what they might find, but generally speaking, they know what they’re looking at once they see it. Finding a totally new class of unidentified object is rare, but that’s just what researchers using the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder telescope found while scanning the skies for radio signatures.

The team of scientists found four strange objects that they describe as “circular edge-brightened discs” which don’t correspond to any known object in the records. The team has named them ORCs, short for “odd radio circles,” and they’re eager to learn more about them.

As LiveScience reports, the researchers were quickly able to dismiss some possible explanations, such as newborn galaxies, nebulas, or supernovas. They even considered whether the strange objects might just be imaging artifacts, but were able to also rule that out. They’re a real mystery, but the researchers have other theories they can neither prove nor disprove at this point. One such explanation is that the rings are what remains of some massive explosive event far away in space.

What makes ORCs so hard to pin an explanation on is the fact that while they are visible in radio wavelengths they can’t be seen using visible light or even infrared. They appear to be purely radio signals, but their uniform shape suggests that the signal may be radiating out from a central point, supporting the idea that the circles are cosmic shockwaves spreading into space.

Still, even if that theory holds water, researchers still don’t know what caused them, how old they are, or what might happen to them in the future. They’re believed to be extragalactic, meaning that they’re not located within the Milky Way, but the team can’t say for certain how far away these strange signals are.

“We have discovered, to the best of our knowledge, a new class of radio-astronomical object, consisting of a circular disc, which in some cases is limb-brightened, and sometimes contains a galaxy at its center. None of the known types of radio object seems able to explain it,” the researchers write. “We, therefore, consider it likely that the ORCs represent a new type of object found in radioastronomy images. The edge-brightening in some ORCs suggests that this circular image may represent a spherical object, which in turn suggests a spherical wave from some transient event.”

It’s all pretty exciting, but we may have to wait a while before astronomers figure out exactly what they’re looking at.

Mike Wehner has reported on technology and video games for the past decade, covering breaking news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones, and future tech. Most recently, Mike served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today, Time.com, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of reporting is second only to his gaming addiction.