A cosmic explosion caused by the death of a massive star has been analysed by scientists.
The blast of radiation, called a gamma-ray burst, was spotted earlier this year by space-based telescopes and has been confirmed as the brightest ever seen.
Researchers believe the distant star was about 20-30 times the mass of the Sun.
The findings are published in the journal Science.
The researchers say it took the light from this event about four billion years to reach us.
Astronomer Prof Paul O'Brien, from the University of Leicester, said: "These events can happen in any galaxy at any time. We have no way to predict them."
The monstrous blast from the dying star was spotted by Nasa's Swift and Fermi space-based telescopes.
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At some point in the Earth's history, we probably were irradiated by a gamma-ray burst, and it will happen again at some point in the future”
Professor Paul O'Brien
University of Leicester
The explosion would have lasted for less than a minute, but hurled radiation across the cosmos.
"The star was previously living quite happily, fusing material in its core. And then it ran out of fuel," explained Prof O'Brien, who is part of the Swift team.
The core of the star would have collapsed into a black hole, while liberating a powerful jet of energy - the gamma-ray burst.
A blast wave would have also caused the rest of the star to expand outwards, creating another dazzling event called a supernova.
"We can see the decaying light - the remnants of both events - for weeks or months afterwards," said Prof O'Brien.
Although the event was closer to Earth than most gamma-ray bursts that have been detected, the radiation would have posed no danger.
Once it reached our planet, the energy would have been absorbed by our atmosphere.
However if a similar explosion happened closer to home, within a distance of 1,000 light years, it could damage the ozone layer, with devastating consequences for life on Earth.
"The prediction is that there would be one [gamma-ray burst] close to the Earth to do us harm every 500 million years," said Prof O'Brien.
"At some point in the Earth's history we probably were irradiated by a gamma-ray burst, and it will happen again at some point in the future.
"But the chances of it happening in our lifetime are very low."
NASA Missions Study 'Watershed' Cosmic Explosion in Unparalleled Detail
On April 27, a blast of light from a dying star in a distant galaxy became the focus of astronomers around the world. The explosion, known as a gamma-ray burst and designated GRB 130427A, tops the charts as one of the brightest ever seen.
A trio of NASA satellites, working in concert with ground-based robotic telescopes, captured never-before-seen details that challenge current theoretical understandings of how gamma-ray bursts work.
"We expect to see an event like this only once or twice a century, so we're fortunate it happened when we had the appropriate collection of sensitive space telescopes with complementary capabilities available to see it," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division in Washington.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos, thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.
Gamma-rays are the most energetic form of light. Hot matter surrounding a new black hole and internal shock waves produced by collisions within the jet are thought to emit gamma-rays with energies in the million-electron-volt (MeV) range, or roughly 500,000 times the energy of visible light. The most energetic emission, with billion-electron-volt (GeV) gamma rays, is thought to arise when the jet slams into its surroundings, forming an external shock wave.
The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope captured the initial wave of gamma rays from GRB 130427A shortly after 3:47 a.m. EDT April 27. In its first three seconds alone, the "monster burst" proved brighter than almost any burst previously observed.
"The spectacular results from Fermi GBM show that our widely accepted picture of MeV gamma rays from internal shock waves is woefully inadequate," said Rob Preece, a Fermi team member at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who led the GBM study.
NASA's Swift Gamma-ray Burst Mission detected the burst almost simultaneously with the GBM and quickly relayed its position to ground-based observatories.
Telescopes operated by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the Rapid Telescopes for Optical Response (RAPTOR) Project quickly turned to the spot. They detected an optical flash that peaked at magnitude 7 on the astronomical brightness scale, easily visible through binoculars. It is the second-brightest flash ever seen from a gamma-ray burst.
Just as the optical flash peaked, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) detected a spike in GeV gamma-rays reaching 95 GeV, the most energetic light ever seen from a burst. This relationship between a burst's optical light and its high-energy gamma-rays defied expectations.
"We thought the visible light for these flashes came from internal shocks, but this burst shows that it must come from the external shock, which produces the most energetic gamma-rays," said Sylvia Zhu, a Fermi team member at the University of Maryland in College Park.
The LAT detected GRB 130427A for about 20 hours, far longer than any previous burst. For a gamma-ray burst, it was relatively nearby. Its light traveled 3.8 billion years before arriving at Earth, about one-third the travel time for light from typical bursts.
"Detailed observations by Swift and ground-based telescopes clearly show that GRB 130427A has properties more similar to typical distant bursts than to nearby ones," said Gianpiero Tagliaferri, a Swift team member at Brera Observatory in Merate, Italy.
This extraordinary event enabled NASA's newest X-ray observatory, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), to make a first-time detection of a burst afterglow in high-energy, or "hard," X-rays after more than a day. Taken together with Fermi LAT data, these observations challenge long-standing predictions.
GRB 130427A is the subject of five papers published online Nov. 21. Four of these, published by Science Express, highlight contributions by Fermi, Swift and RAPTOR. The NuSTAR study is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an international and multi-agency astrophysics and particle physics partnership managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. Goddard also manages NASA's Swift mission, which is operated in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., and international partners. NASA's NuSTAR mission is led by the California Institute of Technology and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena, with contributions from international partners.
Astronomers reveal mystery of brightest ever Gamma-ray Burst
New research explains celestial phenomenon recorded earlier this year
Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 November 2013
For the first time, a team of astronomers from around the world, including experts from the University of Leicester, have used data from satellites and observatories to explain the brightest Gamma-ray Burst (GRB) ever recorded.
An unusually bright GRB was observed on April 27 2013 by the Swift satellite and new research published in Science, has found this to be a result of an extremely powerful stellar explosion. This explosion produced a jet of matter moving close to the speed of light, which was formed when a massive star collapsed to make a black hole at its centre. As a result, a blast wave caused the rest of the star to expand outwards, producing a glowing shell of debris observed as an extremely bright supernova.
The event happened in a galaxy a quarter of the way across the Universe. Although far away, this is much closer than a typical GRB allowing astronomers to confirm for the first time that the same object can simultaneously create both a powerful GRB and a supernovae. GRBs and supernova are the brightest objects in nature.
Professor Paul O’Brien of the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy explained: “We normally detect GRBs at great distance, meaning they usually appear quite faint. In this case the burst happened only a quarter of the way across the Universe meaning it was very bright. On this occasion, a powerful supernova was also produced, something we have not recorded before alongside a powerful GRB and we will now be seeking to understand this occurrence.”
GRBs are relatively rare phenomena, but the study of their behaviour under extreme conditions enables researchers to continue testing the laws of physics.
Professor Julian Osborne, Swift team leader at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy said: “The rapid reaction of Swift has enabled us to discover many new and unexpected aspects of GRBs, the strong confirmation of the basic theory by this new very bright burst reassures us that we are on the right track in understanding these extraordinary explosions.”
Professor Nial Tanvir, also of the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy added: “Seeing such a bright flash a quarter of the way across the observable universe really brings home the astonishing power of these explosions.”
This research, which is published this week in Science in a paper led by Dr Alessandro Maselli from INAF-ISAF Palermo, Italy, concludes that the GRB has properties consistent with that of much more distant examples. The extraordinary brightness of the April 27 event will allow for the most stringent test yet of how GRBs and supernovae can be formed together.
Quelle: University of Leicester