Even the "soft" stars have a "hard" side
Space Science News home
like distant Gamma-Ray Bursts
Right: An artist's concept depicts the magnetic field lines rising from the surface of a magnetar, and the plasma clouds around the star. Credit: Dr. Robert Mallozzi, University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Early in the 1980s, astrophysicists realized that they were looking at two distinct classes of gamma-ray burst events. One class came from within or near our galaxy and would put in repeat performances at unpredictable intervals. The other class came from outside our galaxy and did not repeat.
Sign up for our EXPRESS SCIENCE NEWS delivery
SGRs, meanwhile, have been linked with magnetars, neutron stars whose extreme magnetic fields slow the star's spin and cause bursts of soft gamma radiation.
Except for a few puzzling hard outbursts.
Left: Light curves (25-2000 keV) of two bursts from SGR 1900+14 detected with BATSE. The lower graphs show the relative hardness of the events (-2 is "harder" than -1). Links to. Credit: Pete Woods, University of Alabama in Huntsville and NASA/Marshall. Copies of these graphs, plus the abstract, are available as a .
"SGRs in general show very little or no spectral evolution," Woods said. "These [two flares] were different from normal SGRs and from gamma-ray bursts in that as the burst intensity diminished, the spectrum became harder."
In a paper published today by the Astrophysics Journal Letters, Woods and his colleagues analyzed two bursts from SGR 1900+14 and found that they closely resembled the tough, star-killing gamma-ray bursts observed in deep space, aside from a large difference in peak luminosity.
These events were not exceptionally bright, only hard, a bit longer than typical SGR bursts, and they have evolving spectra.
Above: Localizations of 981022 (dotted) and 990110 (solid) with BATSE (circles denote 90% certainty) and BATSE/Ulysses IPN arcs (99% certainty). Very Large Array radiotelescope location of SGR 1900+14 is denoted by the asterisk. Links to . Credit: Pete Woods, University of Alabama in Huntsville and NASA/Marshall.
December 29: The Warp and Woof of a Geomagnetic Storm
December 28: Y2K Meteor Burst
December 24: Interplanetary Christmas
December 22: Astronomers get a special star for their Christmas tree
Most SGR bursts last about 1/10th of a second, but the SGR flares studied by Woods et al. lasted 10 times as long and showed peculiar characteristics. The two flares studied by Woods have spectra similar to the initial pulses of the two giant SGR flares that occurred on March 5, 1979, and Aug. 27, 1998 (see "Happy Birthday Magnetars" and "Crusty Young Star Makes Its Presence Felt" in Web Links below). Woods' flares, though, are about 1,000 times dimmer than the giant events.
On Oct. 22, 1998, SGR 1900+14 (the numbers give its position in the night sky) erupted with a 1-second FRED burst, meaning fast rise and exponential decay. It's like a match flaring quickly then dying over a longer period. On Jan. 10, 1999, SGR 1900+14 let loose with a strikingly similar burst.
The total energies of the two bursts, though, are not spectacular, only averaging, about 1.7 to 2.9 x 1040 ergs, miniscule compared gamma-ray bursts which are about a trillion times more powerful.
Woods said that several mechanisms could be responsible for the two "hard" SGR bursts.
But the very fact that they happened opens another possibility.
"One question is, How many of these are in the BATSE catalog and have been listed as gamma-ray bursts?" Woods said. "The short answer is not very many. That would skew the observations towards anisotropy, so that supports the belief that these are rare events."
Isotropy means that something happens evenly in all directions like sound radiating from a firecracker. Anisotropy means the event is focused or clustered in a direction or area like the firecracker being set off inside a megaphone.
In the case of gamma-ray bursts, the pattern is highly isotropic; bursts appear to be spread randomly across the sky. If more than a handful of SGRs were mistaken for hard gamma-ray bursts, then the BATSE team would see a slight clustering towards the equatorial plane of the galaxy. They have not.
"But there could be a handful in the BATSE database waiting to be found," Woods said. That investigation is under way.
"1,000 Shares of Magnetar at 12-1/2!" - Here's a hot stock tip: the market, earthquakes, traffic jams, and magnetars follow the same power law. This oddity of the universe won't make you rich; it certainly can't be used to predict where the market is headed. But it follows a recent theory called self-organizing criticality. (December 8, 1999)
Outbursts Result in Controversy -- Scientists have different ideas to explain the behavior of Soft Gamma Repeaters (SGRs). (October 20, 1999)
Happy Birthday, Magnetars -- Twenty years since SGR 0526-66 made its grand appearance to Astronomical minds. (March 5, 1999)
Crusty young star makes its presence felt: Gamma ray flash zaps satellites, illuminates Earth, and sheds light on several mysterious stellar events. (Sept. 28, 1998)
A whole lot of shakin' going on: Starquakes lead to discovery of first new Soft Gamma Repeater in 19 years (July 9, 1998)
Magnetar discovery announcement including more details, interviews and more illustrations (May 20, 1998)
The Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer Learning Center at Goddard Space Flight Center
Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) Home page
More Space Science Headlines - NASA research on the web
NASA's Office of Space Science press releases and other news related to NASA and astrophysics
|For more information, please contact:
Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
|Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: M. Frank Rose