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Business News/ Science / News/  NASA telescopes witness star's dramatic meltdown, solve fast radio burst puzzle?

NASA telescopes witness star's dramatic meltdown, solve fast radio burst puzzle?

NASA telescopes watched a magnetar (dead star) in real-time before and after it released a mysterious radio burst. This observation brings scientists closer to unlocking the secrets of these explosive phenomena.

NASA telescopes witness star's dramatic meltdown, solve fast radio burst puzzle?Premium
NASA telescopes witness star's dramatic meltdown, solve fast radio burst puzzle?

Two NASA telescopes played a game of cosmic hide-and-seek, observing a dead star known for erratic radio bursts. Their joint gaze captured the star's behavior mere minutes before and after it unleashed a powerful burst, offering astronomers a rare glimpse into these mysterious phenomena.

These fleeting radio eruptions, known as fast radio bursts (FRBs), release immense energy in milliseconds, baffling scientists about their origins. Until recently, they were observed solely from afar, leaving their source a cosmic whodunit. Then, in 2020, a burst within our own galaxy finally revealed a culprit: a magnetar, a super-dense remnant of a collapsed star.

Enter SGR 1935+2154, a magnetar notorious for its antics. In October 2022, it threw another tantrum, emitting an FRB scrutinized by NASA's NICER and NuSTAR telescopes. This unprecedented duo observed the magnetar for hours, witnessing its pre-burst behavior and the aftermath.

The data revealed a surprising twist: just before the burst, the magnetar's spin dipped dramatically, 100 times faster than ever seen before. This rapid slowdown hinted at a connection to the burst itself, a puzzle piece scientists are eager to fit in.

The magnetar's volatile nature is no stranger to scientists. Its immense density creates a playground for extreme physics, with X-ray and gamma-ray outbursts commonplace. Shortly before the 2022 FRB, a surge in these high-energy emissions hinted at brewing trouble.

"All those bursts before might have had enough energy to create an FRB, but they didn't," explained Zorawar Wadiasingh, a researcher involved in the study. "Something changed during the slowdown, creating the right conditions."

One theory points to the magnetar's unusual interior, where a superfluid dances beneath a solid crust. When these layers clash, like sloshing water in a spinning fishbowl, energy surges upwards, potentially triggering the burst.

However, with only one event observed in real-time, the exact mechanics remain elusive. The magnetar's powerful magnetic field and potential cracks in its surface are other suspects, each adding to the intrigue.

"We've seen something crucial for understanding FRBs," stated George Younes, a researcher on the project. "But more data is needed to solve the mystery."

This cosmic detective work, with NASA's telescopes playing starring roles, is shedding light on these enigmatic bursts. Each observation brings scientists closer to unlocking the secrets hidden within the explosive hearts of dead stars.


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Published: 18 Feb 2024, 08:36 AM IST
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