Eruption of mega-magnetic star lights up nearby galaxy | Science & Technology

While ESA’s satellite INTEGRAL was observing the sky, it spotted a burst of gamma-rays — high-energy photons — coming from the nearby galaxy M82. Only a few hours later, ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space telescope searched for an afterglow from the explosion but found none. An international team, including researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), realised that the burst must have been an extra-galactic flare from a magnetar, a young neutron star with an exceptionally strong magnetic field. The discovery is published in the journal Nature.

On 15 November 2023, ESA’s satellite INTEGRAL spotted a sudden explosion from a rare object. For only a tenth of a second, a short burst of energetic gamma-rays appeared in the sky. “The satellite data were received in the INTEGRAL Science Data Centre (ISDC), based on the Ecogia site of the UNIGE Astronomy Department, from where a gamma-ray burst alert was sent out to astronomers worldwide, only 13 seconds after its detection,” explains Carlo Ferrigno, senior research associate in the Astronomy Department at UNIGE Faculty of Science, PI of the ISDC and co-author of the publication.

The IBAS (Integral Burst Alert System) software gave an automatic localisation coinciding with the galaxy M82, 12 million light-years away. This alert system was developed and is operated by scientists and engineers from the UNIGE in collaboration with international colleagues.

A curious signal from a nearby galaxy?

“We immediately realised that this was a special alert. Gamma-ray bursts come from far-away and anywhere in the sky, but this burst came from a bright nearby galaxy,” explains Sandro Mereghetti of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF-IASF) in Milan, Italy, lead author of the publication and contributor of IBAS. The team immediately requested ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope to perform a follow-up observation of the burst’s location as soon as possible. If this had been a short gamma-ray burst, caused by two colliding…


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