Gamma-ray burst challenges theories about how gold, uranium, and different metals are made

The Analysis Transient is a brief take about fascinating educational work.

The massive concept

A brilliant flash of gamma rays from the constellation Boötes that lasted almost one minute got here from a kilonova, as we described in a brand new paper. This discovering challenges what astronomers find out about a few of the strongest occasions within the universe.

The weird cosmic explosion was detected by the Neil Gehrels Swift observatory on Dec. 11, 2021, because the satellite tv for pc orbited Earth. When astronomers pointed different telescopes on the a part of the sky the place this huge blast of gamma rays – named GRB211211A – got here from, they noticed a glow of seen and infrared mild often called a kilonova. The actual wavelengths of sunshine coming from this explosion allowed our staff to establish the supply of the weird gamma-ray burst as two neutron stars colliding and merging collectively.

Gamma rays are probably the most energetic type of electromagnetic radiation. In just some seconds, a gamma-ray burst blasts out the identical quantity of power that the Solar will radiate all through its total life. Gamma-ray bursts are the strongest occasions within the universe, and astronomers assume solely two cosmic eventualities can produce gamma-ray bursts.

The commonest sources are the deaths of stars 30 to 50 occasions extra large than the Solar. The catastrophic destruction of 1 these giant stars known as a supernova. Once they explode, the celebrities create black holes that devour the leftover particles. These black holes emit a jet of matter and electromagnetic radiation that strikes at near the pace of sunshine. In moments after the black gap begins emitting this high-energy stream of matter and radiation, the jet produces a burst of gamma rays that may final for minutes.

The weird gamma-ray burst originated from the small crimson dot throughout the circle on this picture. The graph reveals how brilliant and long-lasting the burst was. (Worldwide Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/M. Zamani/NASA/ESA/Eleonora Troja / CC BY-ND)

Kilonovae are the second kind of occasions related to gamma-ray bursts. Kilonovae happen when a neutron star merges with one other neutron star or is consumed by a black gap. Neutron stars are reasonably small stars – about 1.4 to 2 occasions the mass of the Solar, although solely dozens of miles throughout.

When two of those tiny, dense stars merge to supply a black gap, they depart little or no materials behind. In contrast with the long-lasting feast a black gap will get after a supernova, kilonovae depart a black gap with little greater than a snack that leads to a gamma-ray burst that lasts solely a second or two at most.

For over 20 years, astronomers thought that kilonovae accompanied brief gamma-ray bursts and supernovae accompanied lengthy ones. So when our staff began wanting on the wealth of knowledge and pictures collected on the minute-long burst in December 2021, we anticipated to see a supernova. A lot to our shock, we discovered a kilonova.

Why it issues

Kilonovae are cosmic factories that create heavy metals, together with gold, platinum, iodine and uranium. As a result of they enrich the chemical composition of the universe, kilonovae are essential to offering the essential substances for the formation of planets and life.

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GRB211211A’s lengthy length contradicts present theories of how gamma-ray bursts relate to supernovae and kilonovae. This discovering reveals that there’s nonetheless loads astronomers like us don’t perceive about these highly effective and essential processes and means that there could also be different methods the universe can produce heavy metals.

What nonetheless isn’t recognized

The preliminary photographs and knowledge gathered on this fascinating occasion appear to be a kilonova produced from the collision of two neutron stars. However the long-lasting burst of gamma rays throws doubt on what precisely occurred. It’s attainable that one of many gamers was a uncommon neutron star with an extremely highly effective magnetic area – referred to as a magnetar. The burst might even have been the results of a neutron star being torn aside by its companion black gap. Or astronomers might have simply witnessed a new, beforehand unknown kind of stellar crash

What’s subsequent

The few unique stellar encounters that produce gamma-ray bursts can look similar to each other throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. Nevertheless, the distinctive gravitational wave signatures they produce could possibly be the important thing to fixing the enigma. The gravitational wave detectors LIGOVirgo and KAGRA didn’t see GRB211211A, as they had been all offline for enhancements. If they’ll catch a long-duration gamma-ray burst after they start working once more in 2023, the mixture of gravitational wave and electromagnetic knowledge could remedy the thriller of this newly found occasion.

This text is republished from The Dialog below a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.

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