Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Breakthrough Study Confirms Cause of Short Gamma-Ray Bursts

08.04.2011
A new supercomputer simulation shows the collision of two neutron stars can naturally produce the magnetic structures thought to power the high-speed particle jets associated with short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The study provides the most detailed glimpse of the forces driving some of the universe's most energetic explosions.

The state-of-the-art simulation ran for nearly seven weeks on the Damiana computer cluster at the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Potsdam, Germany. It traces events that unfold over 35 milliseconds -- about three times faster than the blink of an eye.

GRBs are among the brightest events known, emitting as much energy in a few seconds as our entire galaxy does in a year. Most of this emission comes in the form of gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light.

"For the first time, we've managed to run the simulation well past the merger and the formation of the black hole," said Chryssa Kouveliotou, a co-author of the study at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "This is by far the longest simulation of this process, and only on sufficiently long timescales does the magnetic field grow and reorganize itself from a chaotic structure into something resembling a jet."

GRBs longer than two seconds are the most common type and are widely thought to be triggered by the collapse of a massive star into a black hole. As matter falls toward the black hole, some of it forms jets in the opposite direction that move near the speed of light. These jets bore through the collapsing star along its rotational axis and produce a blast of gamma rays after they emerge. Understanding short GRBs, which fade quickly, proved more elusive. Astronomers had difficulty obtaining precise positions for follow-up studies.

That began to change in 2004, when NASA’s Swift satellite began rapidly locating bursts and alerting astronomers where to look.

"For more than two decades, the leading model of short GRBs was the merger of two neutron stars," said co-author Bruno Giacomazzo at the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Only now can we show that the merger of neutron stars actually produces an ultrastrong magnetic field structured like the jets needed for a GRB."

A neutron star is the compressed core left behind when a star weighing less than about 30 times the sun's mass explodes as a supernova. Its matter reaches densities that cannot be reproduced on Earth -- a single spoonful outweighs the Himalayan Mountains.

The simulation began with a pair of magnetized neutron stars orbiting just 11 miles apart. Each star packed 1.5 times the mass of the sun into a sphere just 17 miles across and generated a magnetic field about a trillion times stronger than the sun's.

In 15 milliseconds, the two neutron stars crashed, merged and transformed into a rapidly spinning black hole weighing 2.9 suns. The edge of the black hole, known as its event horizon, spanned less than six miles. A swirling chaos of superdense matter with temperatures exceeding 18 billion degrees Fahrenheit surrounded the newborn black hole. The merger amplified the strength of the combined magnetic field, but it also scrambled it into disarray.

Over the next 11 milliseconds, gas swirling close to the speed of light continued to amplify the magnetic field, which ultimately became a thousand times stronger than the neutron stars' original fields. At the same time, the field became more organized and gradually formed a pair of outwardly directed funnels along the black hole's rotational axis.

This is exactly the configuration needed to power the jets of ultrafast particles that produce a short gamma-ray burst. Neither of the magnetic funnels was filled with high-speed matter when the simulation ended, but earlier studies have shown that jet formation can occur under these conditions.

"By solving Einstein's relativity equations as never before and letting nature take its course, we've lifted the veil on short GRBs and revealed what could be their central engine," said Luciano Rezzolla, the study's lead author at AEI. "This is a long-awaited result. Now it appears that neutron star mergers inevitably produce aligned jet-like structures in an ultrastrong magnetic field."

The study is available online and will appear in the May 1 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The authors note the ultimate proof of the merger model will have to await the detection of gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of space-time predicted by relativity. Merging neutron stars are expected to be prominent sources, so the researchers also computed what the model's gravitational-wave signal would look like. Observatories around the world are searching for gravitational waves, so far without success because the signals are so faint.

Lynn Chandler
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/gamma-ray-engines.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>