Ultra-Long Bursts Of Gamma Rays May Have Originated From Explosion Of Supergiant Star: Scientists

By Gopi Chandra Kharel on April 17, 2013 1:22 AM EDT

Ultra-Long Gamma Rays
An artist's impression of the stars creating gamma-ray bursts. The background blue star is the progenitor of a standard long duration gamma-ray burst. (Photo: the University of Warwick)

An exceptionally powerful and long-lived explosion of gamma rays have been observed by scientists, leading to a new theory that the bursts could have originated from the destruction of a gigantic star 1000 times bigger than the sun.

The cosmic explosions generate strange bursts of gamma rays that last for several hours while most other similar rays last for not more than a minute.

The first example of such powerful bursts of gamma rays were detected by astronomers on the Christmas Day 2010 but lack of a measurement of distance led to scientists theorizing two notions of its origin.

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The first theory argued that it was created by an asteroid destroyed by the gravity of intense neutron star in the neighborhood of our own Galaxy. The second point of view suggested that it resulted from a supernova 3.5 billion light years away.

However, a deeper probe into the 2010 gamma rays and a detailed study of several more examples of these grotesque cosmic explosions by scientists led by Dr Nadrew Levan at the University of Warwick suggested that the burst took place farther away and was caused by much bigger a star.

The team used data observed from the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii to calculate the location of this ultra-long burst of gamma rays. They found that it originated at a spot almost half way into the edge of the universe that can be observed by modern science, the staggering distance of 7 billion light years away.

The calculated distance made it easy for the team to arrive at a new conclusion on what they call a new "theory".

The theory claims that this kind of burst is caused when a gigantic star evolving to have a radius of up to 1 billion miles - 1000 times that of the sun explodes in a supernova. They believe that the ultra-long gamma-ray bursts were simply down to the massive size of the star and the resulting enormous burst.

"Previously we've found lots of gamma-ray events with short durations, but in the past couple of years we've started to see the full picture," said lead researcher Dr Andrew Levan in a release, "These events are amongst the biggest explosions in nature, yet we're only just beginning to find them. It really shows us that the Universe is a much more violent and varied place than we'd imagined."

The findings were presented at the GRB 2013 Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee Tuesday April 16. 

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