Artist’s conception of the December 27, 2004 gamma ray flare expanding from SGR 1806-20 and impacting Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA
A gigantic explosion on a neutron star halfway across the Milky Way galaxy, the largest such explosion ever recorded in the universe, should allow astronomers for the first time to probe the interiors of these mysterious stellar objects.
An international team of astrophysicists, combing through data from a NASA X-ray satellite, the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, reports in the July 20th issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters that the explosion produced vibrations within the star, like a ringing bell, that generated rapid fluctuations in the X-ray radiation it emitted into space. These X-ray pulses, emitted during each seven second rotation by the fast-spinning star, contained the frequency vibrations of the neutron star’s massive quakes.
Much as geologists probe the Earth’s interior from seismic waves produced by earthquakes and solar astronomers study the sun using shock waves traveling through the sun, the X-ray fluctuations discovered from this explosion should provide critical information about the internal structure of neutron stars.
Kim McDonald | EurekAlert!
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