Gamma ray bursts are huge explosions of light and are the brightest events ever observed in the universe, but until now we haven’t had much of an idea of what exactly causes them. A team of researchers has now been able to create Gamma ray bursts in the laboratory, opening up our knowledge of these luminous events.
Gamma Ray Bursts
Despite often being far away, some of these Gamma ray bursts are so bright that we can see them here on earth without any magnification equipment – such as the burst GRB 080319B that was discovered by a NASA mission back in March of 2008. Until now, however, we haven’t had much of an understanding of why these events were occurring. The research, published by Gianluca Sarri and others in Physical Review Letters and reported on by The Conversation, documents the process of creating Gamma ray bursts in the laboratory which opens up a new avenue for investigation.
“One idea for the origin of gamma ray bursts is that they are somehow emitted during the emission of jets of particles released by massive astrophysical objects, such as black holes. This makes gamma ray bursts extremely interesting to astrophysicists—their detailed study can unveil some key properties of the black holes they originate from,” said Sarri. “The beams released by the black holes would be mostly composed of electrons and their “antimatter” companions, the positrons….These beams must have strong, self-generated magnetic fields. The rotation of these particles around the fields give off powerful bursts of gamma ray radiation. Or, at least, this is what our theories predict. But we don’t actually know how the fields would be generated.”
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The fact that these Gamma ray bursts only exist for a couple of minutes at maximum duration and their location in distant galaxies that are sometimes billions of light years away from Earth make these phenomena difficult to study, but the creation of a burst here on earth gives us the tools we need to learn more.
Creating The Bursts
Scientists recently proposed that the best way to understand these Gamma ray bursts is to mimic them in small-scale reproductions in the laboratory. Sarri’s group alongside collaborators the United States, France, UK, and Sweden managed to create these bursts using one of the most intense lasers on Earth, the Gemini laser. This laser, hosted by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, is so powerful that it emits energy equal to all of the solar power that hits earth – squeezed into a beam around the thickness of a human hair.
“In our experiment, we were able to observe, for the first time, some of the key phenomena that play a major role in the generation of gamma ray bursts, such as the self-generation of magnetic fields that lasted for a long time,” said Sarri. “These were able to confirm some major theoretical predictions of the strength and distribution of these fields. In short, our experiment independently confirms that the models currently used to understand gamma ray bursts are on the right track.”
Sarri explains that understanding these Gamma ray bursts is important, as it gives us further insight into how black holes function, which opens the door to discovering more about how our universe was born and how it will evolve.