A University of Leicester researcher has led an international team of scientists to announce the discovery of a new cosmic explosion: a gamma-ray burst and its associated supernova.
Dr. Rhaana Starling, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, presents her research findings in a paper published inMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the most powerful blasts in the Universe, and are thought to be created in the deaths of the most massive stars. These brief flashes of gamma radiation are picked up by dedicated satellites which then send out an alert to the astronomers who study them. This dual discovery of a gamma-ray burst and supernova is remarkable in its high energy properties: the X-ray radiation reveals the explosion breaking out of the star. This event provides a much needed confirmation of a phenomenon glimpsed only once previously, supporting the theory that GRBs are indeed linked with the destruction of massive stars.
Rhaana said: “This nearby GRB and supernova, seen together in a relatively nearby galaxy, is a rare find and allows us to study the origins of these enormous explosions in great detail. This event is especially exciting because we think we are witnessing the very moment that the supernova emerged.”
The discovery was made on 16th March 2010 with NASA’s Swift satellite, using the X-ray camera provided by the University of Leicester.. Swift observed the GRB while the Gemini South Telescope was used to find an exploding star — or supernova — in a galaxy 820 million light years away. The team followed the fading embers of the explosion with world-leading ground-based facilities, namely the Very Large Telescope and Gemini South telescope in Chile, and with the Hubble Space Telescope and Swift satellite.
By monitoring both the supernova and the afterglow of the GRB, scientists will gain a complete picture of this rare cosmic event.