Collapsing star produces one of the most epic cosmic explosions ever seen


Astronomers picked up a nearby (relatively speaking) gamma-ray from a stellar explosion.

Artist’s impression of a relativistic jet of gamma-rays breaking through a collapsing star and emitting very high-energy photons.

When some stars die, they collapse and go into supernovae, producing bright flashes of gamma rays and X-rays, gamma-ray burst. GRBs are thought to be the largest explosions in the universe, and now scientists have observed one more closely than ever before, making surprises challenging our understanding of the massive explosions that also give rise to black holes. can.

NASA’s Fermi and Swift satellites detected a gamma-ray burst in the direction of the constellation Eridanus on August 29, 2019. It was cataloged as GRB 190829A, and almost immediately observatories around the world automatically moved to collect more data on the cosmic phenomenon.

It turned out to be about a billion light-years away – a comfortable distance for watching a very violent show, but 20 times closer to Earth than a typical GRB.

“We were actually sitting in the front row when this gamma-ray burst occurred,” Andrew Taylor of the German research center Deutsches Electron-Synchrotron said in a statement.

A GRB comes in two phases: an initial chaotic explosion wave typically lasting a minute or so, followed by a slowly fading afterglow that may remain observable for days. Taylor reports that the second phase of GRB 190829A can be observed “for several days and for unprecedented gamma-ray energies”.

The record-breaking energetic radiation that scientists have observed is probably due to the relative inflation of GRBs.

Current understanding of GRBs has assumed that the X-rays and gamma rays observed from such bursts are produced by different mechanisms involving different types of colliding particles (there seems to be a particle accelerator on Earth). However, data from this phenomenal GRB suggest that its X-ray and gamma ray components are actually the result of the same mechanism.

“It’s unexpected,” says Dmitry Khangulyan of Rikki University in Tokyo.

Khangulian and Taylor are among several co-authors on a paper about the discovery published Thursday in the journal Science. In the end, the record-breaking observation concludes that there is much more to learn and understand about GRBs.

“Looking to the future, the possibilities of detecting gamma-ray bursts by next-generation instruments such as the Cherenkov Telescope Array that are currently being built on the Chilean Andes and the Canary Islands of La Palma look promising,” said Stefan Wagner , spokesman for the High Energy Stereoscopic System, a specialized observatory in Namibia that was used to study GRB 190829.

And, of course, there is hope that future GRBs will continue to be detected, if not billions, then light-years away from Earth.

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