Feeds

Did NASA probe detect a KILLER GAMMA-RAY burst in Andromeda?

'40 solar masses of antimatter went FOOM' we're told

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Updated Sky watchers are rapidly turning their instruments in the direction of Andromeda, after NASA's Swift spacecraft spotted what looks like a deadly gamma-ray burst spotted at 9:21 PM UMT, May 27.

That's got astrophysicists excited, because Andromeda is our nearest galactic neighbour, which means the data collection from the event will be rich pickings that could stretch all the way to gravitational waves.

See below for an update on this developing story.

Since Andromeda – M31 to its familiars – is 2.5 million light-years distant, humans' long-gone predecessors were fooling around with the first stone tools when the event actually took place.

Nature notes that if the burst was caused by colliding neutron stars, gravitational wave observations could be the result.

Sadly the world's most sensitive gravitational wave instrument, America's Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) is offline for a US$200 million upgrade and can't be deployed for this event.

The first job the world of astrophysics has will be to analyse the data collected by NASA's Swift spacecraft, which was the first to spot the event (gamma ray bursts, GRBs, are Swift's mission, after all), and match it up with other observations. That will determine whether what's just wiped out any nearby lifeforms in its path is a GRB or an Ultra-luminous X-Ray Object.

The reason for doubt is that while it's close, the M31 event is pretty small as GRBs go. That makes some astronomers think the UXRO option is more likely. Even if that were so, its proximity would yield exciting science.

A third possibility noted by Australian astronomer Katie Mack on her @Astrokatie Twitter account is a neutron star in a binary system eating its partner:

Preliminary estimates of put the source of the event at about 500 solar masses, making it the biggest “nearby” explosion we've been able to detect.

Whatever it was, our solar system was slightly off-axis for the event, which science-fiction author Charlie Stross tweeted was a good thing for us, here on Earth, because it means we're not in the way of the killer burst:

Which was followed by:

Ouch.

Science Alert quotes Swinburne University of Technology astronomer Dr Alan Duffy as saying that the burst would “potentially be visible in gravitational waves, a key prediction of Einstein, ending a long quest to detect these ripples in space time”.

As io9 explains, the burst was first spotted by Swift's BAT – Burst Alert Telescope – which works out the position of a detected burst to within 3 acrminutes. Swift then swings around to get a more accurate fix, between 20 and 70 arcseconds, before its X-Ray telescope narrows that to 3 arcseconds so that the instrument's UV/optical telescope gets an even finer fix.

Watch #GRBm31 on Twitter for the unfolding story. ®

Updated to add

After publication, NASA reanalysed the data from its probe (initial findings mirrored here) and concluded "we do not believe this source to be [an] outburst. Instead, it was a serendipitous constant source". In other words, it wasn't a gamma-ray burst as first thought.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
Major cyber attack hits Norwegian oil industry
Statoil, the gas giant behind the Scandie social miracle, targeted
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?