The afterglow of a short gamma ray burst (circled) as seen by the Gemini North Telescope. Image: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/K. Paterson & W. Fong (Northwestern University)
Ten billion years ago, two massive bodies, presumably neutron stars, spiralled into each other, merging in a cataclysmic blast that produced a short gamma ray burst, or SGRB. Such events generate enormous amounts of energy, in the blink of an eye, before quickly fading from view. As such, catching sight of the optical afterglow of an SGRB is difficult.
This time around, researchers alerted to the blast by a bulletin from NASA’s burst-hunting Swift space telescope were able to quickly aim the 8.1-metre Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, capturing the faint afterglow of GRB181123B with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph. Using additional data from W.M. Keck Observatory and the Multi-Mirror Telescope, the team was able to date the merger, concluding it is the second most distant SGRB afterglow ever detected.
“We took advantage of the unique rapid-response capabilities and exquisite sensitivity of Gemini North and its GMOS imager to obtain deep observations of the burst mere hours after its discovery,” said team-leader Kerry Paterson of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics at ...