The world’s largest radio telescope captures the glowing effects of star collision

On Wednesday, astronomers presented us with a mysterious video: footage adorned with lime green specks steadily developing against a dark background. But in the middle of this recording, one smudge is not like the other. It’s the brightest neon point ever, and it gets better with every frame.

What you see is evidence that about 20 billion years ago a very powerful neutron star collided with a weaker star, resulting in a short-lived explosive gamma-ray burst, gravitational waves rippling through the universe and spreading out surrounding space with a strong glow. It was a devastating merger that occurred when the universe was only 40% of its current age, and our remarkable view of its accident is courtesy of the world’s largest radio telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Metric Array located in Chile.

More specifically, ALMA is a combination of 66 radio telescopes scattered across the Chilean Andes at high altitudes. And they work together to provide us with data about the violent side of our universe.

“It is very difficult to get flares in short bursts, so it was surprising to see this event so bright,” Wen Fei Fong, an astronomer at Northwestern University and principal investigator for the ALMA programme, said in a statement. “This surprising discovery opens up a new field of study, as it motivates us to observe more of them with ALMA and other telescope arrays in the future.”

First-ever time-lapse footage of short gamma-ray afterglow captured at millimeter wavelengths by ALMA

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Laskar (Utah), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Details of Fung and his fellow researchers’ findings will soon be published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. At the moment, there is a preliminary version available for viewing on arXiv.

The incomprehensible force of nature

Short-lived gamma-ray bursts, such as those officially called GRB 211106A, are some of the most powerful known to science. But in contrast to the longer-lived ones, it remained a mystery due to its transient nature, until 2005, when NASA’s Neil Geirels Swift Observatory collected data on one for the first time.

Within seconds, these cosmic booms can emit more energy than our sun entire life. Although this extreme seems logical to them, because these phenomena stem from binary star collisions that involve at least one neutron star, an extremely dense ball of gas that rivals even black holes in a gravitational monster.

one only 1 tablespoon of a neutron star Equal to something like the weight of Mount Everest.

Neutron star fusion is still 12

Still image of two neutron stars about to merge. Replace one with a regular star and you might imagine what happened long ago with the cosmic subjects of this new study.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI . Laboratory

“These mergers are caused by gravitational wave radiation that removes energy from the orbit of binary stars, causing the stars to rotate toward each other,” Tanmoy Laskar, lead author of the study and an astronomer at Radboud University, said in a statement. . “The resulting explosion is accompanied by jets moving at close to the speed of light. When one of these jets is directed toward Earth, we observe a short pulse of gamma rays or short-range gamma rays.”

This is the bright green light we see in the last dash recording.

ALMA experience

The fact that the study team used ALMA to locate this particular explosion marks the first time such an event has been captured at millimeter wavelengths, a specialty of the Chilean range.

Although this dramatic collision has already been studied with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, it has only been seen under the guise of optical and infrared wavelengths. With these wavelengths, Hubble was mainly able to estimate information about the distant galaxy in which this merger occurred, but not so much about the subsequent auroras that followed. Even if the agency’s flagship James Webb Space Telescope one day begins a mission to investigate GRB 21106A, it will be limited to infrared wavelengths as well, although to a much wider range.

On the other hand, ALMA could see something different than what Hubble did at millimeter wavelengths – it has already captured the afterglow of GRB 21106A. After some deliberation, the new study team realized that this short gamma-ray afterglow is among the brightest ever seen.


This view shows several ALMA antennas and the central regions of the Milky Way above.

ESO / b. brushing

“What makes GRB 211106A so special is that not only is it the first short-range GRB detected at this wavelength, but also, thanks to millimeter and radio detection, we can measure the aircraft’s opening angle,” said Rouco Escorial, co-author and an astronomer at Northwestern University. In a statement.

Ultimately, this information could be necessary to infer the rates of such GRBs in our universe and compare them to the rates of double neutron star mergers and possibly even black hole mergers.

“ALMA breaks the playing field in terms of its capabilities at millimeter wavelengths and has enabled us to see the faint, dynamic universe in this kind of light for the first time,” said Fong. “After a decade of brief observation of GRBs, it is truly amazing to witness the power of using these new technologies to decipher surprising gifts from the universe.”

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