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Astronomers discovered a possible magnetar that emitted 40 visible-light flashes before disappearing again.
Magnetars are young neutron stars with an ultra-strong magnetic field a billion times stronger than that of the Earth. The twisting of magnetic field lines in magnetars give rise to ”starquakes”, which will eventually lead to an intense soft gamma-ray burst.
In the case of the SWIFT source, the optical flares that reached the Earth were probably due to ions ripped out from the surface of the magnetar and gyrating around the field lines.
Side Note: The two images shown above are mere crop outs from ESA’s recent hit: The 9 Billion Pixel Image of 84 Million Stars. These two focus on the bright center of the image for the purpose of highlighting what a peak at 84,000,000 stars looks like.
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile have released a breathtaking new photograph showing the central area of our Milky Way galaxy. The photograph shows a whopping 84 million stars in an image measuring 108500×81500, which contains nearly 9 billion pixels.
It’s actually a composite of thousands of individual photographs shot with the observatory’s VISTA survey telescope, the same camera that captured the amazing 55-hour exposure. Three different infrared filters were used to capture the different details present in the final image.
The VISTA’s camera is sensitive to infrared light, which allows its vision to pierce through much of the space dust that blocks the view of ordinary optical telescope/camera systems.
Staring Into Galactic Infinity
The European Space Organization (ESO) has just released the stunning photo above. At first glance, its just another fine piece of star porn, beautiful little glowing dots and clouds, like so many others whose images we have captured in our quest to catalogue the observable universe.
But this one is special.
This is a nine-gigapixel image was taken using a telescope that looks into the infrared, allowing us to see through the dusty galactic arms. The view is of the galactic center of the Milky Way, our home. That means somewhere in the glowing center lies a black hole, and we are here, rotating around it. The photo marks the largest catalogue of Milky Way stars ever assembled.
If you made counting all of the 84 million objects so far identified in this picture a full-time job, counting 16 hours per day at a comfortable pace, it would take you somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years to finish. If it were printed at book resolution, that image would be 9 meters tall and 7 meters wide.
And this is less than 1% of the whole sky. In just our own galaxy.
Galaxies don’t normally look like this. NGC 6745 actually shows the results of two galaxies that have been colliding for only hundreds of millions of years.
Just off the above digitally sharpened photograph to the lower right is the smaller galaxy, moving away. The larger galaxy, pictured above, used to be a spiral galaxy but now is damaged and appears peculiar. Gravity has distorted the shapes of the galaxies.
Although it is likely that no stars in the two galaxies directly collided, the gas, dust, and ambient magnetic fields do interact directly. In fact, a knot of gas pulled off the larger galaxy on the lower right has now begun to form stars. NGC 6745 spans about 80 thousand light-years across and is located about 200 million light-years away.
One night, Harvard astronomer Alex Parker was camped out at the telescope for a spot of star-gazing, and found himself facing a long, dry period of waiting for the clouds to clear. To pass the time, he started playing around with various images from the Hubble Space Telescope, and ended up assembling them into a colorful mosaic.