Again in Might, astronomers famous an awesome pulse in gamma rays on a wide range of devices. Intrigued, they scrambled to coach telescopes towards the source. Their hustle paid off—utilizing the Hubble House Telescope, the Swift Observatory, and a handful of different ground-based scopes, they noticed what gave the impression to be two neutron stars smacking into one another, producing a mega brilliant flash of infrared gentle.
It will get weirder. Because the Northwestern College researchers observe of their arXiv examine (which was introduced for publication within the Astrophysical Journal yesterday), the depth of infrared gentle was 10 instances better than it ought to have been. Meaning the star duo most likely created one thing unusual after they collided.
“Amazingly, Hubble was capable of take a picture solely three days after the burst,” Northwestern astronomer and lead writer Wen-fai Fong stated in a press launch. “When Hubble seemed once more at 16 days and 55 days, we knew we had not solely nabbed the fading [merger], however that we had additionally found one thing very uncommon.”
Sometimes, when researchers see gamma-ray bursts like they did in Might, they anticipate finding each an excellent brilliant kilonova—an afterglow made by the decaying of heavy parts that may be 1,000 instances brighter than a daily nova—and a black gap. Neutron stars are roughly the identical mass as our solar, however compressed down into the scale of a modest metropolis. So when two of them collide, they actually pack a punch.
However there wasn’t actually a ton of proof displaying a black gap was current on the collision web site. “Given what we all know concerning the radio and X-rays from this blast, it simply doesn’t match up,” Fong added. “The infrared emission that we’re discovering with Hubble is manner too brilliant. When it comes to attempting to suit the puzzle items of this gamma-ray burst collectively, one puzzle piece will not be becoming accurately.”
To clarify the mismatch, the group means that as a substitute of a black gap, the super-powered collision could have birthed one thing known as a magnetar. As we’ve lined earlier than, magnetars are gigantic, hypermassive magnets the scale of cities. Previous to this discovery, nobody was actually positive how these mysterious objects got here to be—fortunately, the brand new examine could act as a leaping off level for a greater understanding of that.
If the item is certainly a magnetar, it ought to emit a particular wavelength of sunshine (much like radio wavelengths) in just a few years. That’ll give the group an opportunity to substantiate their speculation and proceed to unravel extra details about magnetars.
“We solely have one confirmed and well-sampled kilonova so far,” study-author Jillian Rastinejad stated in one other press launch. “So it’s particularly thrilling to discover a new potential kilonova that appears so completely different. Now that now we have one very brilliant candidate kilonova, I’m excited for the brand new surprises that quick gamma-ray bursts and neutron star mergers have in retailer for us sooner or later.”