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NASA's Hubble Spots New Type of Stellar Blast

NASA hubble telescope has spotted a new type of stellar blast called Kilonova

By iDigitalTimes Staff Reporter on August 6, 2013 12:28 AM EDT 0

Gamma Ray Burst
A burst of gamma rays from deep in space that scientists believe this to have been the biggest blast since the Big Bang. The burst was first seen on 14 December, 1997. (Photo: Reuters)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope provided the strongest proof that the merger of two small, super-dense stellar objects produces short-duration gamma ray burst.

On 3 July, 2013 Hubble detected a fading fire ball from a new kind of stellar blast called kilonova. The blast was followed by a short gamma ray burst (GRB) in a galaxy which is four billion light-years away from Earth. This stellar blast kilonova is an outcome of crashing together of two dense objects.

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"This observation finally solves the mystery of the origin of short gamma ray bursts," said Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester in the UK and a lead researcher using Hubble to study the recent short-duration GRB.

"Many astronomers, including our group, have already provided a great deal of evidence that long-duration gamma ray bursts (those lasting more than two seconds) are produced by the collapse of extremely massive stars. But we only had weak circumstantial evidence that short bursts were produced by the merger of compact objects. This result now appears to provide definitive proof supporting that scenario," Tanvir added.

Nova refers to a star showing a rapid increase in brightness which reduces and returns to its original state within a few months.

A kilonova is about a thousand times brighter than a nova, whereas a supernova is about hundred times brighter than a kilonova. The GRB is an unexplained intense high-energy radiation flashes that appear from random directions in space.

These short duration blasts last for a few seconds which generate continuous faint afterglows in near-infrared and visible light for some hours or days. The astronomers concluded that GRBs are situated in far-off galaxies with the help of these afterglows.

Predictions made by astrophysicists suggest that when a pair of super-dense neutron star in a binary system twists together, short-duration GRBs are produced. Binary system refers to a system consisting of two stars. The emission of gravitational radiation from the binary system leads to such events and creates small waves in the fabric of space-time. The energy blown by the waves brings the two stars to sweep closer to each-other. Highly radioactive material is emitted a few milliseconds before the outburst of the pair of stars which unite into a death spiral.

Jennifer Barnes and Daniel Kasen of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made predictions on how kilonovas should appear. They said that the hot plasma generating the radiation will obstruct the visible light, which would cause a flow of energy from the kilonova to overflow in near-infrared light in a few days' time.

NASA' s Swift space telescope has also spotted an extremely bright gamma ray burst on 3 June, 2013, which was listed as 130603B. Though the GRB lasted for only one-tenth of a second, it was about 100 billion times brighter than the next kilonova flash. The Hubble telescope located the sites of previously occurred blasts from around 12 June onwards and observed a faint red object.

The Hubble telescope discovered a new moon orbiting Neptune and a blue exoplanet  in July, 2013.

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