Birth of magnetar from colossal collision potentially spotted for first time

Neutron star merger results in magnetar with brightest kilonova ever observed

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

Research News

VIDEO: NEUTRON STAR MERGER RESULTS IN BRIGHTEST-EVER-OBSERVED KILONOVA AND SUBSEQUENT MAGNETAR. 
CREDIT: NASA, ESA, AND D. PLAYER (STSCI)

EVANSTON, Ill. — Long ago and far across the universe, an enormous burst of gamma rays unleashed more energy in a half-second than the sun will produce over its entire 10-billion-year lifetime.

After examining the incredibly bright burst with optical, X-ray, near-infrared and radio wavelengths, a Northwestern University-led astrophysics team believes it potentially spotted the birth of a magnetar.

Researchers believe the magnetar was formed by two neutron stars merging, which has never before been observed. The merger resulted in a brilliant kilonova — the brightest ever seen — whose light finally reached Earth on May 22, 2020. The light first came as a blast of gamma-rays, called a short gamma-ray burst.

“When two neutron stars merge, the most common predicted outcome is that they form a heavy neutron star that collapses into a black hole within milliseconds or less,” said Northwestern’s Wen-fai Fong, who led the study. “Our study shows that it’s possible that, for this particular short gamma-ray burst, the heavy object survived. Instead of collapsing into a black hole, it became a magnetar: A rapidly spinning neutron star that has large magnetic fields, dumping energy into its surrounding environment and creating the very bright glow that we see.”

The research has been accepted by The Astrophysical Journal and will be published online later this year.

Fong is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics). The research involved two undergraduates, three graduate students and three postdoctoral fellows from Fong’s laboratory.‘There was a new phenomenon happening’

After the light was first detected by NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, scientists quickly enlisted other telescopes — including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Array, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope network — to study the explosion’s aftermath and its host galaxy.

Fong’s team quickly realized that something didn’t add up.

Compared to X-ray and radio observations, the near-infrared emission detected with Hubble was much too bright. In fact, it was 10 times brighter than predicted.

“As the data were coming in, we were forming a picture of the mechanism that was producing the light we were seeing,” said the study’s co-investigator, Tanmoy Laskar of the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. “As we got the Hubble observations, we had to completely change our thought process, because the information that Hubble added made us realize that we had to discard our conventional thinking and that there was a new phenomenon going on. Then we had to figure out about what that meant for the physics behind these extremely energetic explosions.”Magnetic monster

Fong and her team have discussed several possibilities to explain the unusual brightness — known as a short gamma-ray burst — that Hubble saw. Researchers think short bursts are caused by the merger of two neutron stars, extremely dense objects about the mass of the sun compressed into the volume of a large city like Chicago. While most short gamma-ray bursts probably result in a black hole, the two neutron stars that merged in this case may have combined to form a magnetar, a supermassive neutron star with a very powerful magnetic field.

“You basically have these magnetic field lines that are anchored to the star that are whipping around at about 1,000 times a second, and this produces a magnetized wind,” Laskar explained. “These spinning field lines extract the rotational energy of the neutron star formed in the merger, and deposit that energy into the ejecta from the blast, causing the material to glow even brighter.”

“We know that magnetars exist because we see them in our galaxy,” Fong said. “We think most of them are formed in the explosive deaths of massive stars, leaving these highly magnetized neutron stars behind. However, it is possible that a small fraction form in neutron star mergers. We have never seen evidence of that before, let alone in infrared light, making this discovery special.”Strangely bright kilonova

Kilonovae, which are typically 1,000 times brighter than a classic nova, are expected to accompany short gamma-ray bursts. Unique to the merger of two compact objects, kilonovae glow from the radioactive decay of heavy elements ejected during the merger, producing coveted elements like gold and uranium.

“We only have one confirmed and well-sampled kilonova to date,” said Jillian Rastinejad, a co-author of the paper and graduate student in Fong’s laboratory. “So it is especially exciting to find a new potential kilonova that looks so different. This discovery gave us the opportunity to explore the diversity of kilonovae and their remnant objects.”

If the unexpected brightness seen by Hubble came from a magnetar that deposited energy into the kilonova material, then, within a few years, the ejected material from the burst will produce light that shows up at radio wavelengths. Follow-up radio observations may ultimately prove that this was a magnetar, leading to an explanation of the origin of such objects.

“Now that we have one very bright candidate kilonova,” Rastinejad said, “I’m excited for the new surprises that short gamma-ray bursts and neutron star mergers have in store for us in the future.”

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The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

The study, “The broadband counterpart of the short GRB 2005221 at z = 0.5536: A luminous kilonova or a collimated outflow with a reverse shock?” was supported by the National Science Foundation (award numbers AST-1814782 and AST-1909358) and NASA (program number 15964).

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Splitdog Homee
November 15, 2020 11:00 pm

Release the Kraken

Splitdog Homee
Reply to  ATheoK
November 16, 2020 5:09 am

ATheoK,

This election can not be allowed to be stolen. If Biden wins FAIR I have no problem otherwise we all have a big problem that will not go away.

Joel O'Bryan
November 15, 2020 11:28 pm

From GCN NUMBER 28100:
SUBJECT: GRB 200522A: Candidate Optical/nIR Counterpart from Gemini and HST ImagingGRB 200522A: The projected offset from the galaxy’s nucleus is ~0.23 arcseconds, corresponding to 1.5 kpc at redshift z = 0.554.

z-0.554 is roughly 6 billion light years from us assuming the current Hubble Constant. That is a long freaking way out there. Long before our solar system precursors were even a twinkle in our star birthing region began to spit us out with heavy elements in cloud of hydrogen soup.

Climate believer
November 15, 2020 11:34 pm

” Long ago and far across the universe, an enormous burst of gamma rays unleashed more energy in a half-second than the sun will produce over its entire 10-billion-year lifetime.”

……..WTF!

David Blenkinsop
November 15, 2020 11:48 pm

I wonder how close one of those would have to be to us for it to be, well, ‘too much warming’?

Patrick
Reply to  David Blenkinsop
November 16, 2020 1:14 am

Let’s just say that gamma rays skip the whole “warming” step and go straight into “violently ionizing whatever molecule is unlucky enough to get hit by it”.

I’d say that 500 light-years away might not scour life from the earth, but I’d rather not gamble.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Patrick
November 16, 2020 4:38 pm

Nevertheless, we need to take immediate action to fight magnetar formation!

1) Suspension of all Constitutional rights.

2) Massive tax increases on everyone not able to pay them.

3) A “Magnetic New Deal.”

4) Social media in charge of all information flow, to avoid dangerous misinformation and hatespeech.

5) You out there…OBEY!

November 16, 2020 12:13 am

I do often wonder how much of modern cosmology is just an imaginative interpretation of misleading observations that may be very different from the actuality.

William Schroeder
Reply to  Stephen Wilde
November 16, 2020 4:22 am

Probably most of it.

Thomas Gasloli
Reply to  William Schroeder
November 16, 2020 7:10 am

Two thumps up on that.

PC_Bob
Reply to  Stephen Wilde
November 16, 2020 1:05 pm

You mean, something like ‘global warming’? I’d say, “MOST of it’!

PC_Bob
Reply to  Stephen Wilde
November 16, 2020 1:07 pm

You mean, like ‘Global Warming?’ I’d say, ‘MOST of it!’

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Stephen Wilde
November 23, 2020 4:04 pm

Yes Stephen, how many pixels at 6 billion light years away! It could even be a conjunction artifact of several events in line over several of those billion light years. The stuff has a fanciful tone. Even the Tolkienesque opening inspires us to suspend belief

“Long ago and far across the universe, an enormous burst of gamma rays unleashed more energy in a half-second than the sun will produce over its entire 10-billion-year lifetime.” “A Magnetar” (is born in in a conflagration measured in the energy of 10 billion suns)!!

decnine
November 16, 2020 12:51 am

How do neutrons produce magnetic fields?

Reply to  decnine
November 16, 2020 3:40 am

The magnetic field is from the star that collapsed to become a neutron star. Except much denser than previously. The resulting star is rotating very rapidly – conservation of angular momentum – which whips that field around with it; any normal matter around the star is thus heated extremely hot. (The energy transfer slows the rotation, although I don’t believe this has been measured as it is a very small rate.)

See Dr. Forward’s fiction book “Dragon’s Egg.” Excellent speculation based on well-explained fact. Although he doesn’t include the rather ambitious engineering project to place a conducting loop around the star for the ultimate in power generation…

Reply to  decnine
November 16, 2020 4:01 am

Correction to earlier reply (hasn’t shown up yet) – actually, Dr. Forward did include the “mega generator” concept. Been a while since I’d read it; but I just recalled that it is how the human expedition got the power to create their magnetic monopoles.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  decnine
November 23, 2020 4:20 pm

A neutron can convert to a proton and electron (plus a neutrino) in a process called beta decay. Now we have charged particles in violent motion – hence powerful magnetic field.

November 16, 2020 2:33 am

“Unique to the merger of two compact objects, kilonovae glow from the radioactive decay of heavy elements ejected during the merger, producing coveted elements like gold and uranium.”

There has to be a route by which heavy elements such as uranium and thorium leave the nuclear furnace and escape out into space.
This is one possible mechanism.

Peta of Newark
November 16, 2020 3:06 am

I’m with Stephen and decnine

1) The event happened when we saw it happen. e do not need the flowery once-upon-a-time language. I suggest these folks (try to) get their heads around relativity theory

2) How do neutron stars even exist. Aren’t neutrons hideously radioactive things with a half-life measured in minutes? Hence the much touted at the time ‘neutron bomb’ (No, not Olivia) – killed people and not property.

3) That video is beyond naff. Would 2 objects actually move like that. If they do, please explain solar systems, galaxies etc etc

4) Where did all their energy come from? By their own words there’s was/is no fusion able or fissile material there such as powers ‘ordinary’ supernova. To create even just feeble by comparison X-rays, you need to slam relativistic electrons into something very very hard

5) Why *is* the thing magnetic? You need moving charge to create a magnetic field. Are neutrons not neutral in these people’s heads?

What about: Something (just one thing) did try to form itself into a ‘neutron star’ but as it was collapsing, it did like a normal lump of uranium 235 would do – it reached a critical mass and exploded.
OK?
So maybe a lot of material *was* being crushed into neutrons but, they would simultaneously start to decay (Half life =12 minutes)
That would make things very very hot and hence, at some critical point, they all pretty well detonated into cloud of electrons and protons
That would give you a burst of gamma, light, X-rays the lot, plus, your magnetic to maybe explain the shape of the thing

MarkW
Reply to  Peta of Newark
November 16, 2020 8:06 am

“Aren’t neutrons hideously radioactive things with a half-life measured in minutes? Hence the much touted at the time ‘neutron bomb’ ”

In a word, not even wrong.
The half life of a neutron in a nucleus is measured in billions of years.
Neutron bombs are named that because they are designed to create a lot of neutrons, not because they are made of neutrons.

Would two objects move like that? Yes.

Where are the “moving charged particles” that create a magnetic field in a bar magnet?

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  MarkW
November 16, 2020 10:23 pm

Neutrons may have no electric charge, but they do have a small magnetic dipole moment. This allows us to manipulate and store cold neutrons.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  MarkW
November 23, 2020 4:31 pm

MarkW: Free neutrons have a short life, not those bound up in a nucleus.

Re the neutron bomb, I suppose you’ve heard about the neutron martini. You get bombed but you’re left standing.

Voltron
November 16, 2020 3:59 am

Nice to see that data made someone change their thought processes for once.

Seems every other field in science the data must fit the theory.

Still feels like astronomy is very much a field where you can sort of say anything and really only a half dozen people in the world may agree/disagree

James F. Evans
November 16, 2020 4:55 am

Neutron stars? Magnetar?

Magnetar by collision?

It’s almost all assumptions, even how far away the so-called “magnetar” is from earth.

And if it is closer than assumed, the energy levels are much less.

This is an example of runaway science.

And, why, while observations & measurements are getting better with technology improvements, the basic science of astronomy is in crisis.

A disservice to humanity.

mkelly
November 16, 2020 6:17 am

Curious about the 3 objects with 3 different high densities. Light is said not to be able to leave black holes, highest density. Now magnetars and neutron stars are close in density will they slow the speed of light with some ratio of their density to a black hole.

If something as small as the sun can bend light I would think they must do something similar to a black hole.

beng135
Reply to  mkelly
November 17, 2020 10:47 am

Not an expert, but would guess most the the radiation is coming from parts of the jets that have moved some distance away from the center mass.

james fosser
Reply to  mkelly
November 19, 2020 10:56 pm

The sun bends light? Just consider another scenario with the sun bending nothing. Then why does light’s path bend upon coming across the sun? Because space is homogeneous and , when the sun formed from a gas cloud of small particles, the resultant large sun distorted the homogeneity of space and so had space attempt to restore this homogeneity. Result was (and still is) space ”pushing ” from all directions against the forming (formed) anomaly in the original gas cloud we call the sun. We humans think that matter has a property called gravity that ”pulls” at any objects in its vicinity but, in reality, there is no pull i.e no gravity. Space is pushing against the mass of matter (the sun) and these nearby objects are caught up in this push by a ”force” that falls off with the square of the distance from the larger object (We can scale down our thoughts and think of these tiny gas particles as also being subjected to space’s attempts to restore its homogeneity).

james fosser
Reply to  james fosser
November 19, 2020 11:05 pm

Ps to my above comment. If space is considered as having no properties (being nothing) , then how do we explain separateness? i.e every time I look at a star in the sky it is there and not here and seems to remain there and not here (even if we are coming closer to or further from each other, we are not as one!

James F. Evans
November 16, 2020 6:40 am

I watched the video (which is an artist’s impression). At around the 8 second mark in the video the graphic resembles a plasma focus, a type of electromagnetic plasmoid, which has been produced in the laboratory and observed & measured.

There is no need for exotic and theoretical objects like neutron stars and “magnetars.”

Interesting, in order to represent their ideas they make an image of a known laboratory process, but fail to give proper credit.

That’s not good science… seems a bit like AGW science.

November 16, 2020 7:52 am

But but but…what about LIGO? No mention if LIGO detected gravitational waves from the big explosion.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  T.C. Clark
November 16, 2020 10:16 am

LIGO shut down its O3 run in late March with spin-up of the worldwide COVID panic-epidemic and the Left’s efforts to push every one to work from home and shut down economies. The closure of international air travel effectively prevented scientists and technicians to travel between countries. The current LIGO effort besides the two LIGO instruments in the US (Hanford, WA and Livingston, LA) is a collaboration with the Virgo interferometer instrument team in Italy and the GEO 600 instrument team in Germany. They were also working on bringing online the KAGRA instrument in Japan into the GW observing network. There is a very elaborate pipeline of REAL TIME data crossfeeds between all the sites to not just make a GW detection, but to precisely locate it in the sky by RA and Dec and estimate its distance.

So bottom line, the LIGO system has been off-line since April due to COVID-19. No start up date for the next science run has been announced. This COVID shutdown carp is of course affecting all those decisions.

But….Even if LIGO network had been ON-LINE for the May 22nd GRB/Optical event, it likely would NOT have detected the GW from the Binary Neutron Star (BNS) merger.

The BNS inspiral and coalescence that results in a Kilonova event (the resulting gamma ray burst, the optical signature etc) that the electromagnetic spectrum detectors (satellite telescopes and ground telescopes and radio astronomy antennas) can see also produces gravity waves in the final few minutes before coalescence. The LIGO detectors each have their own calculated detection range such BNS inspiral-coalesence events.

BNS events operate in constrained solar mass range due to the nature of Neutron stars occupying a mass range between about 1.1 Solar Mass to about 2.5 Solar Mass. Black holes have solar mass above 5 Solar Mass.
Between about 2.5 to 5 solar masses is the so called “mass gap.” Understanding why the mass gap exists not fully understood and is a complicated astrophysics discussion for another thread.

Suffice to say, the limited solar mass of a BNS merger (1.1 to 2.5 SM) limits how strong these events can be in terms of gravitational waves generated. So that means there is an upper detection range limit based on how sensitive one interferometer setup is. GW events from Binary Black Holes (BBH) mergers can go up to enormous mass ranges on the 50 -60 SM range, thus they can be detected much further away than a BNS merger.
See the graphic here:
comment image

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 16, 2020 10:50 am

The much publicized BNS detection in August 2017 was “only” about 40 MegaParsec (Mpc) away from us. The relative closeness of that event gave a whopping signal-to-noise ratio at the detectos of about 33. There was a single listed BNS detection the O3 run of the LIGO collaboration.
This 2019 BNS GW chirp detection occurred on April 25, 2019, called GW1900425, was at an estimated distance of 160 (+/- 70) Mpc and two neutron stars were estimated at 2.0 SM and 1.4 SM each. This is around 4 times further than the 2017 BNS GW event detected by LIGO, so the SNR for the detection was only around 13.0. This is right at the ragged edge of the detection limit for the higher mass BNS mergers.

This May 22, 2020 BNS event occurred at an estimated Red Shift z= 0.554, which equates to about 6 Giga light-years, or roughly 1,800 Mpc. LIGO has many detections at this Gigaparsec range, but they are all BBH detections where the black hole masses were both large at a dozen or more of solar masses equivalents each to provide a much stronger event to reach our Earth-based detectors.

Botton line: This 2020 Kilonova/BNS inspiral would have been too far away to have had an adequate SNR for the LIGO network to had an expectation to have detected it.

Sara
November 16, 2020 9:06 am

Just don’t get anywhere near it: it will make the hair fall out of your head.

Andromeda is heading this way and is going to “crash” into our own galaxy some time in the future, and that will possibly cause some disruptions in established solar systems. Isn’t there some way we could distract the Greenbeaners and Ecohippies from their Gaia complex and get them to start worrying about (and protesting) this pending collision?

I mean, really, Earth could be nicked right out of this solar system and into another at the drop of a graviton particle – or is that a wavicle? I lose track of these things.

ResourceGuy
Reply to  Sara
November 16, 2020 11:00 am

Careful, it sounds expensive and we are dealing with people who don’t use cost terms anywhere in their equations.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Sara
November 16, 2020 3:44 pm

Too late!
Current observations (or just interpretations,) indicate that the two galaxies are much larger than previously thought and that the dance of Andromeda and Milky Way has already begun.

ThinkingScientist
November 16, 2020 9:11 am

Are they sure its not just the Killing Time dealing with the Affront and taking out Attitude Adjuster?

Herbert
November 16, 2020 3:01 pm

New Scientist had a feature article in its 3 November 2018 edition ,”Wave Goodbye- Doubts are being raised about 2015’s break through gravitational wave discovery”.
LIGO had built its machine capable of detecting gravitational waves and several months after the detection it announced its discovery on 11 February 2016.
A Nobel Prize followed in 2017.
A group of physicists based at the Nils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen with spokes person Andrew Jackson later challenged the finding and controversy followed.
I seem to recall that all this was covered in an earlier WUWT post.
Two subsequent independent studies were said to have confirmed the LIGO Nobel Prize discovery but the Danish Group refused to accept it was wrong.
Modern cosmology appears to confirm that science is never settled.

Herbert
November 16, 2020 3:04 pm

New Scientist had a feature article in its 3 November 2018 edition ,”Wave Goodbye- Doubts are being raised about 2015’s break through gravitational wave discovery”.
LIGO had built its machine capable of detecting gravitational waves and several months after the detection it announced its discovery on 11 February 2016.
A Nobel Prize followed in 2017.
A group of physicists based at the Nils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen with spokes person Andrew Jackson later challenged the finding and controversy followed.
I seem to recall that all this was covered in an earlier WUWT post (23 December 2017).
Two subsequent independent studies were said to have confirmed the LIGO Nobel Prize discovery but the Danish Group refused to accept it was wrong.
Modern cosmology appears to confirm that science is never settled.

Louis Hunt
November 16, 2020 4:22 pm

“When two neutron stars merge, the most common predicted outcome is that they form a heavy neutron star that collapses into a black hole within milliseconds or less,” said Northwestern’s Wen-fai Fong, who led the study.

So why didn’t it form a black hole this time? Is it the mass of the two neutron stars that makes the difference, or something else? I wish they would explain it. Why do they assume the reader knows? Or is it that they don’t know and just don’t want to admit it.

J Mac
November 16, 2020 4:33 pm

Intriguing! Very!
An hypothesis has been stated to explain the new data. The hypothesis may not survive the next data event that informs our knowledge and revises our thinking but that is all part of the game…. and the game is afoot!

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