Explosive fusion of neutron stars first captured in millimeter light

In a first for radio astronomy, scientists detected millimeter-wavelength light from a short-lived gamma-ray burst. This artist’s conception shows the merger between a neutron star and another star (seen as a disk, bottom left) that caused an explosion causing the short-lived gamma-ray burst, GRB 211106A (white jet , center), and left what scientists now know is one of the brightest residual flares ever recorded (half-right hemispherical shock wave). While the dust in the host galaxy obscured most of the visible light (shown as colors), the millimeter light from the event (depicted in green) was able to escape and reach the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) , giving scientists an unprecedented view of this cosmic explosion. From the study, the team confirmed that GRB 211106A is one of the most energetic short-lived GRBs ever observed. Credit: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), M. Weiss (NRAO / AUI / NSF)

The flash is one of the strongest short-duration gamma-ray bursts ever observed.

For the first time, the researchers captured millimeter-wavelength light from an intense explosion caused by the melting of a[{” attribute=””>neutron star and another star using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international observatory operated by the US National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

The scientists also determined that this burst of light was one of the most powerful short-duration gamma-ray bursts ever observed, producing one of the most luminous afterglows ever recorded. The findings were recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The brightest and most energetic explosions in the universe, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), may produce more energy in a few seconds than our Sun will produce in its entire lifetime. GRB 211106A belongs to a GRB subclass called short-duration gamma-ray bursts. The catastrophic merging of binary star systems containing neutron stars leads to these explosions, which are thought to be the source of the heaviest metals in the Universe, such as platinum and gold.


In the first ever time-lapse footage of a short-lived gamma-ray burst in millimeter-wavelength light, we see GRB 21106A captured with the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (

A short-lived GRB usually lasts only a few tenths of a second. Scientists then look for a residual glow, an emission of light caused by the interaction of the jets with the surrounding gas. Even still, they are difficult to detect; only half a dozen short-lived GRBs have been detected at radio wavelengths, and so far none have been detected at millimeter wavelengths. Laskar, who led the research while he was Excellence Fellow at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said the challenge is the immense distance from the GRBs and the technological capabilities of the telescopes.

“The short-lived GRB afterglows are very bright and energetic. But these explosions take place in distant galaxies, which means that the light from them can be quite dim for our telescopes on Earth. Before ALMA, millimeter telescopes were not sensitive enough to detect these residual flares. “

About 20 billion light years from Earth, GRB 211106A is no exception. The light from this short-lived gamma-ray burst was so dim that during the first X-ray observations with

Each wavelength added a new dimension to scientists’ understanding of the GRB, and the millimeter, in particular, was critical to uncovering the truth about the explosion. “Hubble observations revealed an immutable field of galaxies. ALMA’s unmatched sensitivity allowed us to more accurately pinpoint the location of the GRB in that field, which turned out to be in another faint galaxy, which is further away. This, in turn, means that this short-lived gamma-ray burst is even more powerful than we thought, making it one of the brightest and most energetic ever recorded, ”said Laskar.

Wen-fai Fong, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at

“In the case of the GRB 211106A, we used some of the most powerful telescopes available: ALMA, the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Hubble Space Telescope. With the now operational

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