Three years ago, history was made when astronomers first detected a collision of neutron stars using LIGO-Virgo gravitational wave detectors, as two dead celestial bodies came together in a bright flash of gamma radiation, preceded by gravitational ripples. .
Astronomers believe they captured the instant when two dense neutron stars collided in an astronomical event called a kilonova to form a strange magnetic star.
A wide array of telescopes picked up a blinding flash indicative of a short gamma-ray burst 5.5 billion light-years away, reminiscent of the kilonova explosion linked to the 2017 neutron star collision detected during a historic astronomical breakthrough.
However, according to research that was accepted into The Astrophysical Journal and is available on arXiv, there was something about the current kilonova accompanying the gamma-ray burst, dubbed GRB 200522A, that was very unusual.
Observations showed that the flash contained about ten times more infrared light than expected, with research suggesting that the collision had produced something rather unexpected.
The flash had been captured in near infrared wavelengths by the Hubble Space Telescope.
“These observations do not correspond to traditional explanations for short gamma-ray bursts. Considering what we know about the radio and x-rays of this explosion, it just doesn’t add up. The near infrared emission we find with Hubble is far too bright, ”said Northwestern University astronomer Wen-fai Fong, who led the study.
Strange new phenomenon
Astronomers were alerted to the possibility of the vent by NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, a space telescope designed to be able to detect gamma-ray bursts early, with its Burst Alert Telescope.
After this initial warning, other space and ground telescopes, such as The Very Large Array, the WM Keck Observatory, and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network zoomed in on the location.
They obtained an electromagnetic profile of the event, from radio wavelengths to X-rays, to show that it was a short gamma-ray burst associated with the fusion of neutron stars. This is the telescope. Space Hubble, observing the near infrared event, which made astronomers realize that a new phenomenon was occurring.
“As the data came in, we formed a picture of the mechanism that produced the light we were seeing,” said astronomer Tanmoy Laskar from the University of Bath in the UK.
He added that scientists then had to move away from “conventional thinking” to understand “what it meant for the physics behind these extremely energetic explosions.”
While astronomers believe that the two neutron stars of the 2017 event, dubbed GW 170817, merged to form a black hole, on this occasion, the near infrared luminosity of the GRB 200522A kilonova could indicate that the two neutron stars merged to form a rare magnetar.
Magnetars are a type of neutron star that have extremely strong magnetic fields, about 1,000 times that of an average neutron star.
Only 24 have been confirmed, to date, in our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
“We know that magnetars exist because we see them in our galaxy. We believe that most of them form during the explosive death of massive stars, leaving behind these highly magnetized neutron stars. However, it is possible that a small fraction forms in neutron star mergers. We have never seen evidence of this before, let alone infrared light, making this discovery special, ”said Wen-fai Fong.
Only one kilonova to date has been confirmed – the one associated with GW 170817 from 2017.
If the burst of light observed by Hubble came from a magnetar that ejected energy into the kilonova material, within a few years the ejected material will produce observable light on radio wavelengths. As a result, tracking radio observations can prove that it was a magnetar.
The revolutionary event
In 2017, the first historic detection of a collision between two neutron stars, 130 million light years away, in an event dubbed GW 170817, was hailed as a possible breakthrough only because of astronomy. gravitational waves.
The latter had identified the event and alerted the observatories, identifying the area to be monitored. This was only the fifth gravitational wave detection, with the previous four detections from mergers between binary black holes, coming together to form a large black hole.
While there were previously only two gravitational wave detectors, the LIGO interferometers in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Wash., The addition of a third – the Virgo interferometer in Italy, has improved the accuracy of the location.
Now, the breadth of data on various signals is conducive to helping astronomers better understand these events.
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