Dark Energy Ignited By Gamma-Ray Bursts?

Article written: 19 Sep , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Dark energy… We’re still not exactly sure of what it is or where it comes from. Is it possible this mysterious force is what’s driving the expansion of the Universe? A group of astronomers from the universities in Warsaw and Naples, headed by Dr. Ester Piedipalumbo, are taking a closer look at a way to measure this energetic enigma and they’re doing it with one of the most intense sources they can find – gamma-ray bursts.

“We are able to determine the distance of an explosion on the basis of the properties of the radiation emitted during gamma-ray bursts. Given that some of these explosions are related to the most remote objects in space that we know about, we are able, for the first time, to assess the speed of space-time expansion even in the relatively early periods after the Big Bang,” says Prof. Marek Demianski (FUW).

What spawned this new method? In 1998, astronomers were measuring the energy given off by Type Ia supernovae events and realized the expelled forces were consistent. Much like the standard candle model, this release could be used to determine cosmic distances. But there was just one caveat… The more remote the event, the weaker the signature.

While these faint events weren’t lighting up the night, they were lighting up the way science thought about things. Perhaps these Type Ia supernovae were farther away than surmised… and if this were true, perhaps instead of slowing down the expansion of the Universe, maybe it was accelerating! In order to set the Universal model to rights, a new form of mass-energy needed to be introduced – dark energy – and it needed to be twenty times more than what we could perceive. “Overnight, dark energy became, quite literally, the greatest mystery of the Universe,” says Prof. Demianski. In a model put forward by Einstein it’s a property of the cosmological constant – and another model suggests accelerated expansion is caused by some unknown scalar field. “In other words, it is either-or: either space-time expands by itself or is expanded by a scalar physical field inside it,” says Prof. Demianski.

So what’s the point behind the studies? If it is possible to use a gamma-ray burst as a type of standard candle, then astronomers can better assess the density of dark energy, allowing them to further refine models. If it stays monophonic, it belongs to the cosmological constant and is a property of space-time. However, if the acceleration of the Universe is the property of a scalar field, the density of dark energy would differ. “This used to be a problem. In order to assess the changes in the density of dark energy immediately after the Big Bang, one needs to know how to measure the distance to very remote objects. So remote that even Type Ia supernovae connected to them are too faint to be observed,” says Demianski.

Now the real research begins. Gamma-ray bursts needed to have their energy levels measured and to do that accurately meant looking at previous studies which contained verified sources of distance, such as Type Ia supernovae. “We focused on those instances. We knew the distance to the galaxy and we also knew how much energy of the burst reached the Earth. This allowed us to calibrate the burst, that is to say, to calculate the total energy of the explosion,” explains Prof. Demianski. Then the next step was to find statistical dependencies between various properties of the radiation emitted during a gamma-ray burst and the total energy of the explosion. Such relations were discovered. “We cannot provide a physical explanation of why certain properties of gamma-ray bursts are correlated,” points out Prof. Demianski. “But we can say that if registered radiation has such and such properties, then the burst had such and such energy. This allows us to use bursts as standard candles, to measure distances.”

Dr. Ester Piedipalumbo and a team of researchers from the universities in Warsaw and Naples then took up the gauntlet. Despite this fascinating new concept, the reality is that distant gamma-ray bursts are unusual. Even with 95 candidates listed in the Amanti catalogue, there simply wasn’t enough information to pinpoint dark energy. “It is quite a disappointment. But what is important is the fact that we have in our hands a tool for verifying hypotheses about the structure of the Universe. All we need to do now is wait for the next cosmic fireworks,” concludes Prof. Demianski.

Let the games begin…

Original Story Source: University of Warsaw Press Release. For Further Reading: Cosmological models in scalar tensor theories of gravity and observations: a class of general solutions.

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8 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    Thank you for the interesting and infomative article and congrats on all the awards!

    • Member
      Tammy Plotner says

      thanks, psych74. the bio is a new feature that i can’t take out…. cuz’ i’m not big on ringing my own bell. (i’m proud of my accomplishments, but i just like being tammy, too.) as you can tell, i’m prone to typos and am often dyslexic when i get excited about a subject! in other words, i’m just an ordinary, average gal. 😉

      • HeadAroundU says

        Oh look, mammy Tammy is an astronomical superstar. 😀

        Good article, it’s never enough about DE, but obviosly it’s a tough nut to crack.

  2. Member
    IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

    Yo Tammy, at the first paragraph, in the fourth line, you’ve transposed the “i” and the “g” in enigma.

  3. Anonymous says

    Spacetime physics and gravitation are emergent. The conformal spacetime at the boundary of an anti-de Sitter spacetime of one dimension larger contains gauge fields which are equivalent to the AdS dynamics. Local gravity and a cosmological constant may exist on this boundary. The so called dark energy is due to the quantum vacuum state of those gauge fields and their fermionic sources. It could be the case that the vacuum does evolve |?> = e^?|0>, which would suggest some interesting STU physics about the cosmos at large.

    Great if GRBs can be calibrated well enough to become the next “standard candle.” Congrats on the achievements!

    LC

  4. JosephW says

    Very nice article. I enjoy reading things like this—and scanning the pictures from APOD. 🙂
    Where did the picture for this article come from?

    R,
    -Joe

  5. Torbjörn Larsson says

    – Dad, dad!? What is “a cosmic candle”?
    – Daughter, it’s a visible thing that we know the distance to.
    – Dad, dad!? But why is the candle blinking?

    No, really. An exciting tool despite its haphazard nature…

Comments are closed.