New observations confirm theory connecting gamma ray bursts with neutron star merger

A major international research collaboration with researchers from the DNRF Cosmic Dawn Center (DAWN) and from the former DNRF Dark Cosmology Centre (DARK) has confirmed the theory of a connection between colliding neutron stars and short gamma ray bursts. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.

New research published in the journal Nature Astronomy confirms the theory that short-lived gamma ray bursts originate from merging neutron stars. The results come after new observations of light from the first observed collision between neutron stars in August 2017, which created headlines worldwide.

Behind the new research is a major international collaboration led by the University of Warwick with participation from Professor Johan Fynbo and Associate Professor Darach Jafar Watson from the DNRF center DAWN at the University of Copenhagen and researchers from the former DNRF center DARK, which also resides at the University of Copenhagen.

Neutron stars are the highly compact leftovers of giant stars that have exploded in supernovas, and they are among the most extreme known objects in the universe. Despite a modest radius of just about 10 kilometers, neutron stars are extremely heavy and can weigh up to two or three times the mass of our sun.

According to a long-established theory, a collision between neutron stars results in a giant explosion that produces huge amounts of energy. Researchers have long assumed that this is the reason for gamma ray bursts, a phenomenon observed hundreds of times, but until now, it has not been possible to link the observations to a source. However, after the first-ever observed neutron star merger in August 2017, the research team has now been able to link the collision with a gamma ray burst, thereby confirming the theory.

The research team continued to monitor the source after the first observations and had to wait over 100 days for the sight of the first confirmed neutron star merger to re-emerge from behind the glare of the sun. They were at last rewarded with the first confirmed sighting on a jet of material, the afterglow from the gamma ray burst, still streaming out from the event.

This means that researchers now have a far more established framework for understanding both the specific event from 2017 and hundreds of former observations of gamma ray bursts.

More information can be found at the University of Copenhagen here 

Further reading at the University of Warwick here

The scientific article can be found at Nature Astronomy here