The origin of a gigantic flare that swept through our solar system has been indicated by scientists.
The finding may help to understand gamma-ray bursts, the strongest explosions in the universe.
Earth is frequently hit by mild and short gamma-ray bursts. Rarely there are major explosions, similar to the newly discovered GRB 200415A, which bring with them a lashing of energy stronger than Sun.
The flare appears to generate from an unusual, powerful neutron star known as a magnetar. The sun is a very ordinary star. If it dies, it will become bigger and a red giant star. After that, it will collapse into a small compact star called a white dwarf.
However, stars which are more massive than the sun play a different end game.
Such stars explode into a supernova and then leave behind a small compact star known as a neutron star. They are too small and maybe packed into space 12 miles across, but are so dense that a spoonful would weigh tons.
Those stars are the originators of the strongest explosions in the universe. Such explosions impact phone signal today but also represent a method of spying back into the very beginnings of the cosmos, arriving with us as messengers of the universe when it was in a much younger state.
The new research commenced last year in April. On the morning of 15 April, a giant flare swept past Mars. A network of satellites including the International Space Station picked it up, initiating the research, published today.
When GRB 200415A passed Earth, it was not the first such burst to be spotted on Earth. But it was distinctive in many useful ways, including the fact that it came from much closer to us than usual.
Also, it was the first such giant flare to be picked up after the Fermi gamma-ray space telescope launched in 2008. It implies that researchers were able to obtain huge volumes of data in the 140 milliseconds it lasted, giving them a clearer picture of it than the earlier visitor that arrived 16 years ago.
As researchers were able to detect the cause, they felt unusual too. It originated from a magnetar. There are only 30 such familiar objects in our total Milky Way, made up of tens of thousands of neutron stars, and they can be a thousand times more magnetic than regular neutron stars.
Scientists hope to trace more and research them in more detail. That could help explain not only the processes that enable such strong blasts but also apply them as methods of understanding the story of our cosmos.