Location of Magnetar in Galaxy NGC 253

The magnetar was localized to the central part (red box) of NGC 253, a bright galaxy located about 11.4 million light years from Earth. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Center and Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Apart from great voids, magnetars may be the most extreme stars in the universe. With a diameter less than the length of Manhattan, they pack more mass than that of our sun, wield the largest electromagnetic field of any recognized things– more than 10 trillion times more powerful than a refrigerator magnet– and spin on their axes every couple of seconds.

A kind of neutron star— the residue of a supernova surge– magnetars are so highly allured that even modest disruptions in the electromagnetic field can cause bursts of X-rays that last sporadically for weeks or months.

These unique, compact stars are also believed to be the source of some kinds of short gamma ray bursts (GRBs): brilliant flashes of extremely energetic radiation that have puzzled astronomers since they were first discovered in the 1970 s. Several of these huge magnetar flares have actually been discovered within the Milky Way Galaxy. Because they are so extreme that they saturate detectors, and observations within the galaxy are obscured by dust, space scientist Kevin Hurley at the University of California, Berkeley, and a global team of astronomers have actually been looking for these exact same flares in galaxies outside our own for a clearer view.

That 45- year effort is paying off. A brief gamma ray burst discovered last April 15 from a galaxy 11.4 million light years away shows a clear signature that Hurley thinks might help astronomers find magnetar bursts more easily and finally collect the information required to inspect the numerous theories that discuss magnetars and their gamma ray flares.

” We have actually got what we believe are four strong detections considering that 1979 of extragalactic giant magnetar flares, 2 of them practically similar bursts from various galaxies,” stated Hurley, a senior area fellow with UC Berkeley’s Area Sciences Laboratory.

Hurley and 3 coworkers will reported the GRB discovery by numerous U.S. and European satellites and its ramifications at a media briefing on Wednesday, January 13, at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society and in 3 papers appearing simultaneously in the journals Nature and Nature Astronomy

Giant magnetar bursts

GRBs, the most powerful explosions in the universes, can be detected across billions of light-years.

However not all brief GRBs fit the neutron star merger profile, Hurley stated. Specifically, of the 29 magnetars within our Galaxy known to exhibit periodic X-ray activity, two have actually produced giant flares that are different from the bursts from these mergers.

The most recent of these detections was on Dec. 27, 2004, an event that produced quantifiable modifications in Earth’s upper atmosphere, despite emerging from a magnetar situated about 28,000 light years away.

Given that the late 1970 s, Hurley has actually operated the InterPlanetary Network (IPN), a 24/ 7 effort to plow through information from many spacecraft– presently 5, catching some 325 gamma bursts each year– in hopes of discovering more giant magnetar flares. That network was key to capturing the April 15, 2020, flare.

Quickly before 4: 42 a.m. EDT on that Wednesday, a quick, effective burst of X-rays and gamma rays swept past Mars, activating the Russian High Energy Neutron Detector aboard NASA‘s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which has actually been orbiting the planet because2001 About 6.6 minutes later on, the burst activated the Russian Konus instrument aboard NASA’s Wind satellite, which orbits a point in between Earth and the sun located about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) away. After another 4.5 seconds, the radiation passed Earth, triggering instruments on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the European Area Agency’s INTEGRAL satellite.

Analysis of data from the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) on NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory provided extra insight into the occasion.

These information revealed that the pulse of radiation lasted just 140 milliseconds, the blink of an eye.

Hurley and Dmitry Svinkin of Russia’s Ioffe Institute, a member of the IPN group, used the arrival times determined by the Fermi, Swift, Wind, Mars Odyssey and INTEGRAL objectives to pinpoint the place of the April 15 burst, called GRB 200415 A, squarely in the central region of NGC 253, a bright spiral nebula situated about 11.4 million light-years away in the constellation Carver. This is the most exact sky position yet determined for a magnetar located beyond the Big Magellanic Cloud, a satellite of our galaxy and host in 1979 to the very first giant flare ever detected.

” This was the most precisely localized magnetar outside of our galaxy so far, and we have actually really pinned it down now, not simply to a galaxy, however a part of a galaxy where we anticipate star formation is going on, and stars are exploding.

Flashes from a lighthouse

The huge flares seen within the Galaxy look a bit different from those from neighboring galaxies since of range. Astronomers have documented that giant flares from magnetars in the Galaxy and its satellites progress in an unique method, with a rapid increase to peak brightness followed by a more steady tail of changing emission. These variations result from the magnetar’s rotation, which repeatedly brings the flare place in and out of view from Earth, similar to a lighthouse.

Observing this varying tail is definitive evidence of a giant flare– a cigarette smoking weapon, Hurley stated.

The new observations expose numerous pulses, with the first one appearing in just 77 microseconds– about 13 times the speed of a video camera flash and nearly 100 times faster than the rise of the fastest GRBs produced by mergers.

” The combination of the increase time and decay time, we think, might be showing us a design template, due to the fact that we have actually seen it in the past– we saw it back in 2005, with another event, almost the carbon copy. And the energy spectrum of the 2 were also comparable,” Hurley stated.

Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor likewise discovered rapid variations in energy over the course of the flare that have actually never been observed prior to.

” Huge flares within our galaxy are so dazzling that they overwhelm our instruments, leaving them to hang onto their secrets,” said Oliver Roberts, an associate scientist at Universities Area Research study Association’s Science and Innovation Institute in Huntsville, Alabama, who led the research study of Fermi data. “For the first time, GRB 200415 A and remote flares like it permit our instruments to record every function and check out these effective eruptions in exceptional depth.”

Starquakes and electromagnetic field reconnection

Giant flares are improperly comprehended, but astronomers think they result from an unexpected rearrangement of the magnetar’s magnetic field.

” The concept is that you have this superstrong magnetic field coming out of the star, however anchored to the crust, and the magnetic field can twist, applying pressure on the crust.

Roberts and his associates state that the data reveal some proof of seismic vibrations during the eruption.

The torpedo likewise aspects into one of the event’s greatest surprises. The highest-energy X-rays recorded by the Gamma-Burst Display reached 3 million electron volts (MeV), or about 1 million times the energy of blue light. The satellite’s primary instrument, the Large Location Telescope (LAT), likewise spotted 3 gamma rays with energies of 480 MeV, 1.3 billion electron volts (GeV) and 1.7 GeV– the highest-energy light ever discovered from a magnetar huge flare. What’s unexpected is that all of these gamma rays appeared long after the flare had actually reduced in other instruments.

Nicola Omodei, a senior research study scientist at Stanford University, led the LAT team investigating these gamma rays, which arrived in between 19 seconds and 4.7 minutes after the main event. The scientists concluded that this signal most likely also originated from the magnetar flare.

A magnetar produces a constant outflow of fast-moving particles.

In the model proposed by the LAT group, the flare’s initial pulse of gamma rays takes a trip outward at the speed of light, followed by the cloud of ejected matter, which is moving nearly as fast. This interaction creates shock waves that speed up particles, producing the highest-energy gamma rays after the primary burst.

The April 15 flare shows that the 2020 and 2004 occasions constitute their own class of GRBs, Hurley said.

” A few percent of brief GRBs may actually be magnetar giant flares,” stated Eric Burns, an assistant teacher of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who led a research study that determined extra extragalactic magnetar suspects. “In fact, they may be the most common high-energy outbursts we’ve discovered up until now beyond our galaxy– about five times more frequent than supernovae.”

While bursts near the galaxy M81 in 2005 and the Andromeda galaxy (M31) in 2007 had already been suggested to be giant flares, his group identified a newly reported flare in M83, also seen in2007 Add to these the huge flare from 1979 and those observed in our Galaxy in 1998 and 2004.

” It’s a small sample, but we now have a much better idea of their real energies, and how far we can find them,” stated Burns, whose study will appear later on this year in The Astrophysical Journal Letters


” A bright γ-ray flare translated as a giant magnetar flare in NGC 253″ by D. Svinkin, D. Frederiks, K. Hurley, R. Aptekar, S. Golenetskii, A. Lysenko, A. V. Ridnaia, A. Tsvetkova, M. Ulanov, T. L. Cline, I. Mitrofanov, D. Golovin, A. Kozyrev, M. Litvak, A. Sanin, A. Goldstein, M. S. Briggs, C. Wilson-Hodge, A. von Kienlin, X.-L. Zhang, A. Rau, V. Savchenko, E. Bozzo, C. Ferrigno, P. Ubertini, A. Bazzano, J. C. Rodi, S. Barthelmy, J. Cummings, H. Krimm, D. M. Palmer, W. Boynton, C. W. Fellows, K. P. Harshman, H. Enos and R. Starr, 13 January 2021, Nature
DOI: 10.1038/ s41586-020-03076 -9

” Fast spectral irregularity of a huge flare from a magnetar in NGC 253″ by O. J. Roberts, P. Veres, M. G. Baring, M. S. Briggs, C. Kouveliotou, E. Bissaldi, G. Younes, S. I. Chastain, J. J. DeLaunay, D. Huppenkothen, A. Tohuvavohu, P. N. Bhat, E. Göğüş, A. J. van der Horst, J. A. Kennea, D. Kocevski, J. D. Linford, S. Guiriec, R. Hamburg, C. A. Wilson-Hodge and E. Burns, 13 January 2021, Nature
DOI: 10.1038/ s41586-020-03077 -8

” High-energy emission from a magnetar huge flare in the Carver galaxy” by The Fermi-LAT Cooperation, 13 January 2021, Nature Astronomy
DOI: 10.1038/ s41550-020-01287 -8


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