For the last 12 months, researchers have been examining a 50-second energy burst that originates from a galaxy over a billion light-years distant and may alter how we see the life and death of stars.
An enormous energy burst struck the Earth’s atmosphere in December 2021. One of the most powerful explosions in the cosmos, a gamma-ray burst, was its cause, but it wasn’t just any gamma-ray burst.
One scientist said at the time that the event – named GRB 211211A – “looks unlike anything else we have seen before”.
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory both discovered the event in December 2021. The gamma-ray burst lasted much longer than usual, which would typically indicate that a big star’s collapse into a supernova was the cause of it.
The presence of an exceptionally high percentage of infrared light was only one of numerous hints that this was no ordinary supernova, however.
According to a research that was just published in the scientific magazine Nature, a kilonova was the source of the enormous surge of energy.
The collision of two very massive neutron stars causes these relatively uncommon cosmic occurrences, which typically last much less than a minute. Heavy elements like gold and platinum are created by them.
We discovered that this one event created almost 1,000 times the mass of the Earth in extremely heavy elements, according to Dr. Matt Nicholl, an associate professor at the University of Birmingham. This bolsters the notion that the universe’s primary gold producers are these kilonovae.
It was a “amazing” occurrence, according to Dr. Benjamin Gompertz, Assistant Professor at the University of Birmingham.
We don’t anticipate mergers to last more than two seconds, he added. This one managed to run a jet for about a minute. We can’t rule out the possibility that what we saw was a neutron star being torn apart by a black hole, but it’s feasible that the behavior may be described by a long-lasting neutron star.”
The study’s principal investigator, Jillian Rastinejad, a PhD student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University, said in a statement: “Gamma-ray-burst astronomy is experiencing an exciting paradigm change as a result of this occurrence.
“This event looks unlike anything else we have seen before from a long gamma-ray burst,” she added. “Its gamma rays resemble those of bursts produced by the collapse of massive stars.
“Given that all other confirmed neutron star mergers we have observed have been accompanied by bursts lasting less than two seconds,” sh ewent on, “we had every reason to expect this 50-second GRB was created by the collapse of a massive star.”
“Kilonovae are powered by the radioactive decay of some of the heaviest elements in the universe.
“But kilonovae are very hard to observe and fade very quickly. Now, we know we can also use some long gamma-ray bursts to look for more kilonovae.”