Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's Hubble Finds 'Smoking Gun' After Gamma-Ray Burst

06.08.2013
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has provided the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are triggered by the merger of two small, super-dense stellar objects, such as a pair of neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole.

The definitive evidence came from Hubble observations in near-infrared light of the fading fireball produced in the aftermath of a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). The afterglow reveals for the first time a new kind of stellar blast called a kilonova, an explosion predicted to accompany a short-duration GRB.


NASA, ESA, and A. Field (STScI)

Stellar Merger Model for Gamma-ray Burst. This sequence illustrates a model for the formation of a short-duration gamma-ray burst. (1) A pair of neutron stars in a binary system spiral together. Orbital momentum is dissipated through the release of gravity waves, which are tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time. (2) In the final milliseconds, as the two objects merge, they kick out highly radioactive material. This material heats up and expands, emitting a burst of light called a kilonova. An accompanying gamma-ray burst lasts just one-tenth of a second, but is 100 billion times brighter than the kilonova flash. (3) The fading fireball blocks visible light but radiates in infrared light. (4) A remnant disk of debris surrounds the merged object, which may have collapsed to form a black hole.

A kilonova is about 1,000 times brighter than a nova, which is caused by the eruption of a white dwarf. Such a stellar blast, however, is only 1/10th to 1/100th the brightness of a typical supernova, the self-detonation of a massive star.

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 generate 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. The cause of short-duration GRBs, however, remains a mystery. The most popular theory is that astronomers are witnessing the energy released as two compact objects crash together. But, until now, astronomers have not gathered enough strong evidence to prove it, say researchers.

A team of researchers led by Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom has used Hubble to study a recent short-duration burst in near-infrared light. The observations revealed the fading afterglow of a kilonova explosion, providing the "smoking gun" evidence for the merger hypothesis.

"This observation finally solves the mystery of the origin of short gamma-ray bursts," Tanvir said. "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."

Astrophysicists have predicted that 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, tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time. The energy dissipated by the waves causes the two objects to sweep closer together. In the final milliseconds, as the two objects merge, the death spiral kicks out highly radioactive material. This material heats up and expands, emitting a burst of light. This powerful kilonova blast emits as much visible and near-infrared light every second as the Sun does every few years. A kilonova lasts for about a week.

In a recent science paper Jennifer Barnes and Daniel Kasen of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory presented new calculations predicting how kilonovas should look. They predicted that the same hot plasma producing the radiation will also act to 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 on June 3 when NASA's Swift Space Telescope picked up the extremely bright gamma-ray burst, cataloged as GRB 130603B, in a galaxy located almost 4 billion light-years away. 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.

The visible-light afterglow was detected at the William Herschel Telescope and its distance was determined with the Gran Telescopio Canarias, both located in the Canary Islands.

"We quickly realized this was a chance to test Barnes' and Kasen's new theory by using Hubble to hunt for a kilonova in near-infrared light," Tanvir said. The calculations suggested that the light would most likely be brightest in near-infrared wavelengths about 3 to 11 days after the initial blast. The researchers needed to act quickly before the light faded, so they requested Director's Discretionary Observing Time with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.

On 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 three weeks later, on July 3, revealed that the source had faded away, therefore providing the key evidence it was the fireball from an explosive event.

"Previously, astronomers had been looking at the aftermath of short-period bursts largely in optical light, and were not really finding anything besides the light of the gamma-ray burst itself," explained Andrew Fruchter of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., a member of Tanvir's research team. "But this new theory predicts that when you compare near-infrared and optical images of a short gamma-ray burst about a week after the blast, the kilonova should pop out in the infrared, and that's exactly what we're seeing."

In addition to confirming the nature of short GRBs, the discovery has two important implications. First, the origin of many heavy chemical elements in the universe, including gold and platinum, has long been a puzzle. Kilonovas are predicted to form such elements in abundance, spraying them out into space where they could become part of future generations of stars and planets.

Second, the mergers of compact objects are also expected to emit intense gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein. Gravity waves have not yet been discovered, but new instruments under development may make the first detections within a few years. "Now it seems that by hunting for kilonovas, astronomers may be able to tie together the events giving rise to both phenomena," Tanvir said.

The team's results will appear online on Aug. 3 in the journal Nature.

For images and more information on the kilonova, visit:
http://hubblesite.org/news/2013/29
For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Ray Villard | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

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 >>>