Space

August 5, 2013

NASA’s Hubble finds telltale fireball after gamma ray burst

nasa-hubble

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently provided the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma ray bursts are produced by the merger of two small, super-dense stellar objects.

The evidence is in the detection of a new kind of stellar blast called a kilonova, which results from the energy released when a pair of compact objects crash together. Hubble observed the fading fireball from a kilonova last month, following a short gamma ray burst in a galaxy almost 4 billion light-years from Earth. A kilonova had been predicted to accompany a short-duration GRB, but had not been seen before.

“This observation finally solves the mystery of the origin of short gamma ray bursts,” said Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Tanvir lead a team of researchers using Hubble to study the recent short-duration GRB. “Many astronomers, including our group, have already provided a great deal of evidence that long-duration gamma ray bursts (those lasting more than two seconds) are produced by the collapse of extremely massive stars. But we only had weak circumstantial evidence that short bursts were produced by the merger of compact objects. This result now appears to provide definitive proof supporting that scenario.”

The team’s results appeared Aug. 3 in a special online edition of the journal Nature.

A kilonova is about 1,000 times brighter than a nova, which is caused by the eruption of a white dwarf.  The self-detonation of a massive star, a supernova, can be as much as 100 times brighter than a kilonova. Gamma ray bursts are mysterious flashes of intense high-energy radiation that appear from random directions in space. Short-duration blasts last at most a few seconds, but they sometimes produce faint afterglows in visible and near-infrared light that continue for several hours or days. The afterglows have helped astronomers determine that GRBs lie in distant galaxies.

Astrophysicists have predicted short-duration GRBs are created when a pair of super-dense neutron stars in a binary system spiral together. This event happens as the system emits gravitational radiation, creating tiny waves in the fabric of space-time. The energy dissipated by the waves causes the two stars to sweep closer together. In the final milliseconds before the explosion, the two stars merge into a death spiral that kicks out highly radioactive material. This material heats up and expands, emitting a burst of light.

In a recent science paper Jennifer Barnes and Daniel Kasen of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory presented new calculations predicting how kilonovas should look. They predicted the same hot plasma producing the radiation also will block the visible light, causing the gusher of energy from the kilonova to flood out in near-infrared light over several days.

An unexpected opportunity to test this model came June 3 when NASA’ s Swift space telescope picked up the extremely bright gamma ray burst, cataloged as GRB 130603B. Although the initial blast of gamma rays lasted just one-tenth of a second, it was roughly 100 billion times brighter than the subsequent kilonova flash.

From June 12-13, Hubble searched the location of the initial burst, spotting a faint red object. An independent analysis of the data from another research team confirmed the detection. Subsequent Hubble observations July 3 revealed the source had faded away, therefore providing the key evidence the infrared glow was from an explosion accompanying the merger of two objects.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
NASA illustration

NASA awards radiation challenge winners, launches next round

NASA illustration This illustration depicts our heliosphere, showing the approximate locations of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft. Galactic cosmic rays originate outside the heliosphere and stream in uniformly from all direc...
 
 
NASA photograph

Celebrate with NASA as agency commemorates Hubble’s 25th anniversary

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is turning 25 this year. The observatory has transformed our understanding of our solar system and beyond, and helped us find our place among the stars. NASA is celebrating the Hubble Space T...
 
 

ULA unveils America’s new rocket

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emmeil-0u5k&feature=player_embedded United Launch Alliance unveiled its Next Generation Launch System April 13 at the 31st Space Symposium. The new rocket, Vulcan, will transform the future of space by making launch services more affordable and accessible. The NGLS brings together decades of experience on ULA’s reliable Atlas and Delta vehicles, combin...
 

 
NASA/JHU APL/Carnegie Institution of Washington

NASA spacecraft achieves unprecedented success studying Mercury

NASA/JHU APL/Carnegie Institution of Washington NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft traveled more than six and a half years before it was inserted into orbit around Merc...
 
 

NASA selects American small business, research institution projects for further development

NASA has selected 149 research and technology proposals from American small businesses and research institutions that will enable NASA’s future missions into the solar system and beyond while benefiting America’s technology-driven economy right here on Earth. The selected proposals now will enter into negotiations for contract awards as part of Phase II of the agency’s...
 
 

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft nears historic encounter with Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is three months from returning to humanity the first-ever close up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto and its system of large and small moons. “Scientific literature is filled with papers on the characteristics of Pluto and its moons from ground based and Earth orbiting space observations, but we’ve never...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>