‘Dead’ star reveals origin of mysterious space phenomenon

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A group of astronomers, when observing a magnetar – a neutron star with a powerful magnetic field generated after the “death” of the celestial body – found something never seen before. In addition to the already known X-rays, the SGR 1935 + 2154 emitted new radio waves, which probably brought confirmation of the origin of the so-called fast radio bursts (FRB), which have intrigued scientists since 2007.

The mysterious phenomenon is a transient high-energy radio pulse. In April, an occurrence was identified by the team about 30 thousand light years from Earth, in the center of the Milky Way; however, it lasts for milliseconds and is hardly seen again – the Burst Alert System on the INTEGRAL telescope, belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA), was built just to look for it.

According to Sandro Mereghetti, an astrophysicist at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Milan, the equipment is capable of automatically alerting observatories around the world to news of this type in just a few seconds, and he was instrumental in the new discovery.

Mystery solved

As soon as the new FRBs were detected, “hunters” participating in the STARE2 project, in the United States, were able to confirm that these waves came from the magnetar in question and are accompanied by explosions that exceed billions of times the brightness of the Sun, seen within a few hours after.

Mereghetti, the study’s leader, says this is the first time that an observation connects explosions of radio waves to this type of celestial body: “It really is a great discovery and helps to focus on the origin of these mysterious phenomena”.

“By gathering observations from around the world and from space, scientists have been able to elucidate a long-standing mystery in astronomy,” celebrates Erik Kuulkers, ESA project scientist. “We are thrilled that INTEGRAL has played a key role in this.”


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