Credit: Credit: Sguera et al., 2016.
Mysterious Shots in the Dark
Events which occur once are perhaps the most intriguing phenomena we can experience. In high-energy astronomy, Gamma-ray Bursts are classical examples of this: rapid flashes of Gamma-ray radiation that light up the sky for up to minutes at a time, then fade away. Understanding these bursts occurred only after thousands of individual bursts were catalogued, and only after some individual bursts were also detected by lower-energy X-ray observatories like BeppoSAX and Swift. Another example is the discovery of "fast radio bursts" by some ground-based radio telescopes. These bursts are bright flashes of radio radiation, lasting only a few thousandths of a second, some of which are apparently associated with distant galaxies. Detection of these transient phenomena often relies on luck, looking in the right place at the right time. But some of these weird events may be hiding in plain sight. A group of astronomers have recently performed a careful analysis of archived observations obtained by the INTEGRAL hard X-ray space telescope. INTEGRAL has helped establish the existence of transient X-ray flashes, which are now known to be associated with a class of massive supergiant stars orbited by neutron stars. But in their search for more of these so-called "Supergiant Fast X-ray Transients" in the INTEGRAL observation archive, astronomers discovered two new extremely bright and extremely fast X-ray transients. The image of one of them is shown above, showing the appearance of the source in the middle frame. At present the nature of these two new transients is unknown; it's possible that they may be new types of supergiant X-ray transients, or they may represent strange, powerful stellar flares from relatively normal, relatively nearby flare stars. How many more weird things are hiding in the archive of space observations? Find out!
Published: September 12, 2016
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 19-Sep-2016 08:26:04 EDT