PTIMar 28, 2018 13:02:11 IST
NASA's planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope has helped scientists to solve the mystery of the fast and furious explosions that have bewildered astronomers for a decade.
The universe is full of mysterious exploding phenomena that go boom in the dark. One particular type of ephemeral event is called a Fast-Evolving Luminous Transient (FELT), which has a very brief duration.
Now, scientists have used Kepler to catch FELTs in the act and determine their nature. They appear to be a new kind of supernova that gets a brief turbo boost in brightness from its surroundings.
"We collected an awesome light curve. We were able to constrain the mechanism and the properties of the blast," said Armin Rest from the Space Telescope Science Institute in the US.
"We could exclude alternate theories and arrive at the dense-shell model explanation. This is a new way for massive stars to die and distribute material back into space," said Rest. Kepler's ability to precisely sample sudden changes in starlight has allowed astronomers to quickly arrive at this model for explaining FELTs, and rule out alternative explanations.
Researchers conclude that the source of the flash is from a star after it collapses to explode as a supernova. The big difference is that the star is cocooned inside one or more shells of gas and dust.
When the tsunami of explosive energy from the blast slams into the shell, most of the kinetic energy is immediately converted to light. The burst of radiation lasts for only a few days, one-tenth the duration of a typical supernova explosion.
Over the past decade several FELTs have been discovered with timescales and luminosities not easily explained by traditional supernova models. Only a few FELTs have been seen in sky surveys because they are so brief.
Unlike Kepler, which collects data on a patch of sky every 30 minutes, most other telescopes look every few days.
Therefore, they often slip through undetected or with only one or two measurements, making understanding the physics of these explosions tricky.
In the absence of more data, there have been a variety of theories to explain FELTs: the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst, a supernova boosted by a magnetar (neutron star with a powerful magnetic field), or a failed Type Ia supernova.
Keplers precise, continuous measurements that allowed astronomers to record more details of the FELT event