T. A. Oosterloo et al., "Extreme intra-hour variability of the radio source J1402+5347 discovered with Apertif," Astronomy & Astrophysics, V641, no. L4, pp. 1-11, 1 September 2020.
The propagation of radio waves from distant compact radio sources through turbulent interstellar plasma in our Galaxy causes these sources to twinkle, a phenomenon called interstellar scintillation. Such scintillations are a unique probe of the micro-arcsecond structure of radio sources as well as of the sub-AU-scale structure of the Galactic interstellar medium. Weak scintillations (i.e. an intensity modulation of a few percent) on timescales of a few days or longer are commonly seen at centimetre wavelengths and are thought to result from the line-of-sight integrated turbulence in the interstellar plasma of the Milky Way. So far, only three sources were known that show more extreme variations, with modulations at the level of some dozen percent on timescales shorter than an hour. This requires propagation through nearby (d ≲ 10 pc) anomalously dense (ne ∼ 102 cm−3) plasma clouds. Here we report the discovery with Apertif of a source (J1402+5347) showing extreme (∼50%) and rapid variations on a timescale of just 6.5 min in the decimetre band (1.4 GHz). The spatial scintillation pattern is highly anisotropic, with a semi-minor axis of about 20 000 km. The canonical theory of refractive scintillation constrains the scattering plasma to be within the Oort cloud. The sightline to J1402+5347, however, passes unusually close to the B3 star Alkaid (η UMa) at a distance of 32 pc. If the scintillations are associated with Alkaid, then the angular size of J1402+5347 along the minor axis of the scintels must be smaller than ≈10 μas, yielding an apparent brightness temperature for an isotropic source of ≳1014 K.
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