To our knowledge, this is the first time that the aftermath of a collision involving at least one neutron star has been caught in the millimeter range of radio frequency wavelengths. This has allowed us to capture a short-duration gamma-ray burst, one of the most powerful ever recorded, with one of the brightest afterglows ever detected. Scientists may use the information to better understand these dramatic occurrences and their impact on the surrounding universe.
Incredibly, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) will pick up the light of the explosion in November 2021, after it has traversed some 6 to 9 billion light-years across the Universe.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most intense explosions known to science. A gamma-ray burst can release more energy than the Sun does in 10 billion years in only 10 seconds.
These explosions are significant because, as we witnessed in the first-ever recorded neutron star collision, they create and expel materials heavier than iron into the Universe. That gold ring on your finger is evidence of catastrophic starfall.
Short-duration gamma-ray bursts (SGRBs) are known to result from the collision of neutron stars. The ejecta from the explosion collides with the gas in the interstellar medium, creating a dazzling afterglow that lasts for just milliseconds.
Since these SGRBs are seldom detected at radio frequencies, understanding them might be challenging.
It was too far away for our existing gravitational wave astronomy devices to detect GRB 211106A. The short explosion and its associated X-ray burst were detected by NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.
However, the host galaxy of GRB 211106A is too far away to be seen in X-ray wavelengths, and the presence of dust in the vicinity prevented Hubble’s optical measurements from identifying the source.
Thus, scientists who relied only on the X-ray burst assumed the explosion occurred in close proximity. Since no one had ever attempted to detect and place a gamma-ray burst in its proper context before, scientists turned to ALMA.