EPIC camera shows the expanding rings caused by a flash of X-rays
Credits: ESA, S. Vaughan (University of Leicester)
ESA’s X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, has imaged a spectacular set of rings which appear to expand, with a speed a thousand times faster than that of light, around the point in the sky where a powerful gamma-ray explosion took place in early December. This is the first time that such a fascinating event, called an `echo’, has been seen in X-ray wavelengths.
This echo forms when the powerful radiation of a gamma-ray burst, coming from far away, crosses a slab of dust in our Galaxy and is scattered by it, like the beam of a lighthouse in clouds. Using the expanding rings to precisely pin-point the location of this dust, astronomers can identify places where new stars and planets are likely to form.
On 3 December 2003 ESA’s observatory, Integral, detected a burst of gamma rays, lasting about 30 seconds, from the direction of a distant galaxy. Within minutes of the detection, thanks to a sophisticated alert network, many observatories around the world were pointing their instruments at this mysterious source in the sky, named GRB 031203, in the attempt to decipher its nature. Also ESA’s X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, joined the hunt and observed the source in detail, using its on-board European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC).
Irina Bruckner | ESA
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