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NASA’s Swift satellite witnesses frequent blasts

Astronomers using NASA’s Swift satellite and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have been witnessing frequent blasts from a stellar remnant 30,000 light-years away, the American space agency reported.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2009 02:09 IST

Astronomers using NASA’s Swift satellite and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have been witnessing frequent blasts from a stellar remnant 30,000 light-years away, the American space agency reported.

The high-energy fireworks arise from a rare type of neutron star known as a soft-gamma-ray repeater. Such objects unpredictably send out a series of X-ray and gamma-ray flares, NASA reported.

“At times, this remarkable object has erupted with more than a hundred flares in as little as 20 minutes,” said Loredana Vetere, who is coordinating the Swift observations at Pennsylvania State University.

“The most intense flares emitted more total energy than the sun does in 20 years,” Vetere said.

The object, which has long been known as an X-ray source, lies in the southern constellation Norma. During the past two years, astronomers have identified pulsing radio and X-ray signals from it.

The object began a series of modest eruptions on Oct 3, 2008 and then settled down. It roared back to life Jan 22 with an intense episode. Because of the recent outbursts, astronomers will classify the object as a soft-gamma-ray repeater -- only the sixth known.