JWST Confirms the Formation of Heavy Elements in a Kilonova

Image from JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument displaying GRB 230307A’s kilonova and its former home galaxy, the former of which was found to possess heavy elements. (Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, A. Levan (IMAPP, Warw), A. Pagan (STScI))

A recent study published in Nature investigates recent observations from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and ground-based telescopes of heavy elements within the ejected material of a recent gamma-ray burst (GRB), classified as GRB 230307A, that was likely produced by a kilonova with GRB 230307A being designated as the second-brightest GRB ever detected. The heavy element in question is the chemical element tellurium, which is classified as a metalloid on the periodic table. However, scientists also hypothesize that the element iodine, which is a requirement for most of life on the Earth and classified as a reactive nonmetal, could also exist within the kilonova’s explosion, with both elements residing side-by-side on the periodic table.

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Brightest Gamma-ray Burst Shines Light on Milky Way Structure

GRB Burst
XMM Newton's view of the remnant of the record-setting gamma-ray burst 221009A. ESA

The brightest gamma-ray burst ever seen in 2022 still puzzles astronomers.

The more researchers look at a recent record-setting event, the stranger it gets.

The story begins on the evening of October 9th, 2022, when NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift orbiting observatory detected a strong X-ray outburst. The source was in the direction of the constellation of Sagitta the Arrow along the galactic plane, suggesting a source in our own Milky Way galaxy. Follow-up observations from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and the Earth-based European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope however, soon revealed that the source was much more distant, emanating from a gamma-ray burst lying beyond our galaxy. This outburst only appeared to have happened along our line of sight as seen through the plane own galaxy from our Earthbound perspective.

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Colliding Neutron Stars can Generate Long Gamma-ray Bursts

Artist's illustration of a bright gamma-ray burst occurring in a star-forming region and beaming out energy into two narrow, oppositely directed jets. Image Credit: By NASA/Swift/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones - http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/features/news/10sep08.html [1]Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by TheDJ using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8807284

Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) are the most energetic recurring events in the Universe. Only the Big Bang was more energetic, and it was a singularity. Astronomers see GRBs in distant Universes, and a lot of research has gone into understanding them and what causes them.

A new paper is upending some of what scientists thought they knew about these extraordinary explosions.

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How Artificial Intelligence Can Find the Source of Gamma-Ray Bursts

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are powerful flashes of energetic gamma-rays lasting from less than a second to several minutes. They release a tremendous amount of energy in this short time making them the most powerful events in the Universe. They are thought to be mostly associated with the explosion of stars that collapse into black holes. In the explosion, two jets of very fast-moving material are ejected, as depicted in this artist’s illustration. If a jet happens to be aimed at Earth, we see a brief but powerful gamma-ray burst. Credit: ESO/A. Roquette

Gamma-ray bursts come in two main flavors, short and long. While astronomers believe that they understand what causes these two kinds of bursts, there is still significant overlap between them. A team of researchers have proposed a new way to classify gamma-ray bursts using the aid of machine learning algorithms. This new classification scheme will help astronomers better understand these enigmatic explosions.

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A new Hubble Image Reveals a Shredded Star in a Nearby Galaxy

The latest composite image of supernova remnant DEM L 190, released in November 2022. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Kulkarni, Y. Chu

The Hubble Space Telescope, to which we owe our current estimates for the age of the universe and the first detection of organic matter on an exoplanet, is very much doing science and still alive. It’s latest masterpiece remixes an old hit – apparently a growing trend in space science as well as space music.

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Astronomers Just saw the Most Powerful Gamma-ray Burst Ever Recorded

Artist’s impression of a gamma-ray burst. Credit: ESO/A. Roquette

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are one of the most mysterious transient phenomena facing astronomers today. These incredibly energetic bursts are the most powerful electromagnetic events observed since the Big Bang and can last from a few milliseconds to many hours. Whereas longer bursts are thought to occur during supernovae, when massive stars undergo gravitational collapse and shed their outer layer to become black holes, shorter events have also been recorded when massive binary objects (black holes and neutron stars) merge.

These bursts are characterized by an initial flash of gamma rays and a longer-lived “afterglow” typically emitted in X-ray, ultraviolet, radio, and other longer wavelengths. In the early-morning hours on October 14th, 2022, two independent teams of astronomers using the Gemini South telescope observed the aftermath of a GRB designated GRB221009A. Located 2.4 billion light-years away in the Sagitta constellation, this event was perhaps the closes and most powerful explosion ever recorded and was likely triggered by a supernova that gave birth to a black hole.

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A Black Hole can Tear a Neutron Star Apart in Less Than 2 Seconds

Numerical simulation of a black hole-neutron star merger. Credit and ©: K. Hayashi (Kyoto University)

Almost seven years ago (September 14th, 2015), researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves (GWs) for the first time. Their results were shared with the world six months later and earned the discovery team the Noble Prize in Physics the following year. Since then, a total of 90 signals have been observed that were created by binary systems of two black holes, two neutron stars, or one of each. This latter scenario presents some very interesting opportunities for astronomers.

If a merger involves a black hole and neutron star, the event will produce GWs and a serious light display! Using data collected from the three black hole-neutron star mergers we’ve detected so far, a team of astrophysicists from Japan and Germany was able to model the complete process of the collision of a black hole with a neutron star, which included everything from the final orbits of the binary to the merger and post-merger phase. Their results could help inform future surveys that are sensitive enough to study mergers and GW events in much greater detail.

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Gamma-ray Bursts can Help Astronomers Measure Vast Distances Across the Universe

An illustration of a powerful gamma ray burst. Credit: NAOJ

Now that the James Webb Space Telescope is operational, astronomers can study some of the most faint and distant galaxies ever seen. By some accounts, we may have already captured the image of a galaxy from when the universe was just 300 million years old. But we can’t be entirely sure of its distance, and that is a big problem for astronomers.

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New Radio Images of Bizarre “Odd Radio Circles” Which are Vastly Bigger Than the Milky Way

Artist depiction of an Odd Radio Circle. Credit: CSIRO

In radio astronomy, circle-shaped objects are fairly common. Since diffuse ionized gas often emits radio light, objects such as supernova remnants, planetary nebulae, and even star-forming regions can create circular arcs of diffuse gas. But in 2019 astronomers began to discover radio circles they couldn’t explain, in part because they are so large.

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Exploding Material From a Gamma-ray Burst Scrambled Nearby Magnetic Fields

Artist’s impression of a gamma-ray burst shining through two young galaxies in the early Universe. Credit: ESO

A team of astronomers has found that giant, organized magnetic fields can help drive some of the most powerful explosions in the universe. But when all is said and done, the shock wave from that blast scrambles any magnetic fields in a matter of minutes.

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