What We Learned From a Dead Star Erupting With The Fire And Fury of 100,000 Suns

In a nearby galaxy, a rare type of dead star erupted in a massive explosion.

This in itself may not be very strange; But, for the first time, changes in their brightness during this event have been documented in detail, giving scientists a window into understanding the processes that produce these massive flares.

The star is a type of extreme neutron star called a magnetar, located 13 million light-years away in the Silver Coin Galaxy (NGC 253), and at its peak eruption of 160 milliseconds, it released as much energy as the Sun does 100,000 years.

“Even in inactivity, magnetic stars can be a hundred thousand times brighter than our sun, but in the case of the flash we studied – GRB 2001415 – the energy released is equivalent to that radiated by our sun a hundred thousand years,” said astrophysicist Alberto Alberto c. Castro Tirado of the Institute of Astrophysics in Andalusia, Spain.

All stars have their own peculiarities and peculiarities, but magnetic stars should be close to the most exotic. They’re really cool neutron stars — the crumbling, dead cores of once massive stars, which have a mass about 2.3 times the mass of the Sun, packed into a super-dense sphere just 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) wide.

What the magnet brings to the table is a totally cracked magnetic field. These magnetic structures are about 1,000 times stronger than a typical neutron star, and nearly a quadrillion times stronger than Earth’s magnetic structures, and we don’t know how or why they form.

We know it leads to some very interesting behavior not seen in intermediate neutron stars. The internal pressure of gravity competes with the external drag of the magnetic field, resulting in strong and unpredictable magnetic earthquakes. Scientists now believe that these earthquakes are the strongest contender for mysterious signals known as fast radio bursts, which, in milliseconds, emit radio energy from more than 500 million suns.

But these earthquakes are irregular and unpredictable, which means they have been difficult to observe and characterize. Cue 15 April 2020, when an instrument on the International Space Station designed to observe Earth’s atmosphere picked up something very far away. This was the event called GRB 2001415, a gamma-ray burst, later identified by a magnetar in another galaxy.

Now, using artificial intelligence, a team led by Castro Tirado has analyzed the explosion in detail, precisely measuring the fluctuations in brightness produced by the magnetar during the eruption.

“The difficulty lies in the shortness of the signal, its amplitude rapidly decays and becomes embedded in the background noise. Since it is associated with noise, it is difficult to distinguish its signals,” explained astrophysicist Victor Reglero of the University of Valencia in Spain. .

“It is the intelligence of the system we developed at the University of Valencia that, combined with advanced data analysis techniques, allowed us to discover this amazing phenomenon.”

According to the team’s analysis, the oscillations correspond to two thousandth waves in the magnetosphere of a magnetar caused by an earthquake in the crust. These waves bounce back and forth between the footprints of their magnetic field lines, releasing energy as they interact in a process called magnetic reconnection, which we know leads to flares in our star.

By measuring the oscillations, the team determined that the magnitude of the magnetic eruption was, in order of magnitude, equal to or greater than the size of the magnetar itself. This is quite impressive, especially considering the bay of space the emissions have traveled through. It is the most distant magnetic star such a volcanic eruption has been observed.

“From perspective, it was as if the magnetar wanted to signal its presence to us from its cosmic isolation, singing in kilohertz with the power of Pavarotti from a billion suns,” Reglero said. “A true cosmic monster!”

The team’s research was published in temper nature.


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