A Giant Flare Detected From a Powerful Neutron Star 11.4 Million Light Years Away

Published January 14th, 2021 - 08:24 GMT
This is the highest burst to be detected since 2008 by NASA satellites

A giant flare that swept through the solar system in April sent scientists on investigation deep into space to uncover the high-energy burst's origin – and the hunt is finally over.

A group of researchers led by the University of Johannesburg revealed the explosion, dubbed GRB 200415A, was released from a magnetar — a neutron star with a strong magnetic field – located in a spiral galaxy 11.4 million light-years away.

The elusive visitor flew past Mars in the early hours of April 15 which was picked up by a number of satellites, including the International Space Station, sparking the search outside of the Milky Way and to the distant galaxy NGC 253.

The burst, however, lasted for just 140 milliseconds, but due to the advanced orbiting instruments were able to capture more data than from the previous flare detected 13 years ago.

GRB 200415A was picked up at 4:42 am ET April 15 by satellites and was the first known giant flare to be detected since 2008 by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope. 

The recent burst was also detected by Fermi, along with Swift, Mars Odyssey, and Wind mission satellites and the European Space Agency's INTEGRAL satellite.

Gamma-ray bursts (GRB) are the brightest and most energetic events in the universe.

These can only be detected when the beams are pointed directly at Earth.

Most of these take place billions of light-years away and can last from a few milliseconds to a few hours when observed from Earth. 

Scientists have known for a while that supernovas spout long GRB's, which are bursts longer than two seconds.

In 2017, a team determined two neutron stars spiraling into each other can also give off a short GRB.

The 2017 burst came from a safe 130 million light-years away from Earth.

Prof Soebur Razzaque from the University of Johannesburg, said:'In the Milky Way there are tens of thousands of neutron stars.'

'Of those, only 30 are currently known to be magnetars.'

'Magnetars are up to a thousand times more magnetic than ordinary neutron stars.

'Most emit X-rays every now and then. But so far, we know of only a handful of magnetars that produced giant flares. The brightest we could detect was in 2004.'

'Then GRB 200415A arrived in 2020.'

If the next giant flare GRB happens closer to our home galaxy the Milky Way, a powerful radio telescope on the ground such as MeerKAT in South Africa may be able to detect it, he says.

'That would be an excellent opportunity to study the relationship between very high energy gamma-ray emissions and radio wave emissions in the second explosion. And that would tell us more about what works and doesn't work in our model.'

This article has been adapted from its original source

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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