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A huge magnetar exploded in space and released the energy that the Sun emits in 100,000 years

A huge magnetar exploded in space and released the energy that the Sun emits in 100,000 years

A huge magnetar exploded in space and released the energy that the Sun emits in 100,000 years

Astrophysicists have been able to measure the eruption of a magnetar, a type of neutron star that can occasionally release an enormous amount of energy in tenths of a second.

The scientific group headed by the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) has reported in Nature that one of these gigantic magnetic flares

Among the neutron stars, objects that can contain half a million times the mass of the Earth in a diameter of about 20 kilometers, stands out a small group with the most intense magnetic field known: magnetars. These objects, of which only 30 are known, suffer violent eruptions that are still little known due to their unexpected nature and their short duration, of barely tenths of a second.

“Even in an inactive state, magnetars can be 100,000 times more luminous than our Sun,” says Alberto J. Castro-Tirado, a researcher at the IAA-CSIC who is leading the work, in a statement. “But in the case of the flash we have studied, GRB200415, which occurred on April 15, 2020 and lasted only around one tenth of a second, the energy that was released is equivalent to the energy that our Sun radiates in 100,000 years -explains-. The observations revealed multiple pulses, with a first pulse appearing only about tens of microseconds, much faster than other extreme transients. “

It is believed that eruptions in magnetars may be due to instabilities in their magnetosphere or to a kind of earthquakes produced in their crust, a rigid and elastic layer about a kilometer thick. “Regardless of the trigger, a type of waves will be created in the star’s magnetosphere, Alfvén waves, which are well known in the Sun and which, while bouncing back and forth between the points at the base of its lines of magnetic field, they interact with each other, dissipating energy ”, points out Castro-Tirado.

The oscillations detected in the eruption are consistent with the emission produced by the interaction between Alfvén waves, whose energy is rapidly absorbed by the crust. Thus, in a few milliseconds the magnetic reconnection process ends and, therefore, also the pulses detected in GRB200415, which disappeared 3.5 milliseconds after the main burst. The analysis of the phenomenon has made it possible to estimate that the volume of the flare was similar or even greater than that of the neutron star itself.

The eruption was detected by the ASIM instrument, on board the International Space Station (ISS), which was the only one of a total of seven capable of recording the main phase of the eruption in its full energy range without suffering saturations. The scientific team was able to solve the temporal structure of the event, a truly complex task that involved more than a year of analysis for a second of data.

“The detection of quasi-periodic oscillations in GRB200415 has been quite a challenge from the point of view of signal analysis. The difficulty lies in the brevity of the signal, whose amplitude decays rapidly and becomes embedded in background noise. And, being noise correlated, it is difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise. We therefore owe this achievement to the sophisticated data analysis techniques that have been applied independently by the various team members, but it is also undoubtedly a technological achievement due to the excellent quality of the data provided by the instrument. ASIM aboard the International Space Station ”, points out Javier Pascual, IAA-CSIC researcher who has also participated in the work.

The most distant magnetar ever observed

These flares had been detected in two of the 30 known magnetars in the Milky Way, but also in two others located in other galaxies. GRB2001415 would be the most distant magnetar eruption captured to date, found in the Sculptor group of galaxies, some 13 million light years away.

“This eruption has provided a crucial component in understanding how magnetic stresses are produced in and around a neutron star. Continuous monitoring of magnetars in nearby galaxies will help to understand this phenomenon, and will also pave the way to learn more about fast radio bursts, one of the most enigmatic phenomena in astronomy today, “he concludes.

The work uses data from ASIM, a mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), with strong Spanish participation led by the University of Valencia (UV) and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA). Co-authors of the same are also researchers from the aforementioned university, and from the universities of Cádiz and Málaga, also using data from the BOOTES robotic telescope network (led by Castro-Tirado) and the Gran Telescopio de Canarias.

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