- Press Release Distribution

Rare star's giant gamma-ray burst GRB 204015A captured close to our home galaxy

A star dying soon after the beginning of the universe could be disrupting mobile phone reception today.

( Earth gets blasted by mild short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) most days. But sometimes a giant flare like GRB 200415A arrives at our galaxy, sweeping along energy that dwarfs our sun. In fact, the most powerful explosions in the universe are gamma-ray bursts.

Now scientists have shown that GRB 200415A came from another possible source for short GRBs. It erupted from a very rare, powerful neutron star called a magnetar.

Previous detected GRB's came from relatively far away from our home galaxy the Milky Way. But this one was from much closer to home, in cosmic terms.

GRB explosions can disrupt mobile phone reception on earth, but they can also be messengers from the very early history of the universe.

A different end game

"Our sun is a very ordinary star. When it dies, it will get bigger and become a red giant star. After that it will collapse into a small compact star called a white dwarf.

"But stars that are a lot more massive than the sun play a different end game," says Prof Soebur Razzaque from the University of Johannesburg.

Razzaque lead a team predicting GRB behavior for research published in Nature Astronomy on January 13, 2021 .

"When these massive stars die, they explode into a supernova. What's left after that is a very small compact star, small enough to fit in a valley about 12 miles (about 20km) across. This star is called a neutron star. It's so dense that just a spoonful of it would weigh tons on earth," he says.

It's these massive stars and what's left of them that cause the biggest explosions in the universe.

A telling split second

Scientists have known for a while that supernovas spout long GRB's, which are bursts longer than two seconds. In 2017, they found out that two neutron stars spiralling into each other can also give off a short GRB. The 2017 burst came from a safe 130 million light years away from us.

But that could not explain any of the other GRBs that researchers could detect in our sky on almost a daily basis.

This changed in a split of a second at 4:42am U.S. Eastern Time on April 15, 2020.

On that day, a giant flare GRB swept past Mars. It announced itself to satellites, a spacecraft and the International Space Station orbiting around our planet.

It was the first known giant flare since the 2008 launch of NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope. And it lasted just 140 milliseconds, about the blink of an eye.

But this time, the orbiting telescopes and instruments captured way more data about the giant flare GRB than the previous one detected 16 years previously .

Bursts from another source

The elusive cosmic visitor was named GRB 200415A . The Inter Planetary Network (IPN), a consortium of scientists, figured out where the giant flare came from. GRB 200415A exploded from a magnetar in galaxy NGC 253, in the Sculptor constellation, they say.

All the previously known GRB's were traced to supernovas or two neutron stars spiralling into each other.

"In the Milky Way there are tens of thousands of neutron stars," says Razzaque. "Of those, only 30 are currently known to be magnetars.

"Magnetars are up to a thousand times more magnetic than ordinary neutron stars. Most emit X-rays every now and then. But so far, we know of only a handful of magnetars that produced giant flares. The brightest we could detect was in 2004. Then GRB 200415A arrived in 2020."

Galaxy NGC 253 is outside our home, the Milky Way, but it is a mere 11.4 million light years from us. That is relatively close when talking about the nuclear frying power of a giant flare GRB.

A giant flare is so much more powerful than solar flares from our sun, it's hard to imagine. Large solar flares from our sun disrupt cell phone reception and power grids sometimes.

The giant flare GRB in 2004 disrupted communication networks also.

Second wave nabbed for the first time

"No two gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are ever the same, even if they happen in a similar way. And no two magnetars are the same either. We're still trying to understand how stars end their life and how these very energetic gamma rays are produced, says Razzaque.

"It's only in the last 20 years or so, that we have all the instruments in place to detect these GRB events in many different ways - in gravitational waves, radio waves, visible light, X rays and gamma rays."

"GRB 200415A was the first time ever that both the first and second explosions of a giant flare were detected," he says.

Understanding the second wave

In 2005 research, Razzaque predicted a first and second explosion during a giant flare.

For the current research in Nature Astronomy, he headed a team including Jonathan Granot from the Open University in Israel, Ramandeep Gill from the George Washington University and Matthew Baring from the Rice University.

They developed an updated theoretical model, or prediction, of what a second explosion in a giant flare GRB would look like. After April 15, 2020 , they could compare their model with data measured from GRB 200415A.

"The data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (Fermi GBM) tells us about the first explosion. Data from the Fermi Large Area Telescope (Fermi LAT) tells us about the second," says Razzaque.

"The second explosion occurred about 20 seconds after the first one, and has much higher gamma-ray energy than the first one. It also lasted longer. We still need to understand what happens after a few hundred seconds though."

Messengers about deep time

If the next giant flare GRB happens closer to our home galaxy the Milky Way, a powerful radio telescope on the ground such as MeerKAT in South Africa, may be able to detect it, he says.

"That would be an excellent opportunity to study the relationship between very high energy gamma-ray emissions and radio wave emissions in the second explosion. And that would tell us more about what works and doesn't work in our model."

The better we understand these fleeting explosions, the better we may understand the universe we live in.

A star dying soon after the beginning of the universe could be disrupting cell phone reception today.

"Even though gamma-ray bursts explode from a single star, we can detect them from very early in the history of the universe. Even going back to when the universe was a few hundred million years old," says Razzaque.

"That is at an extremely early stage of the evolution of the universe. The stars that died at that time... we are only detecting their gamma-ray bursts now, because light takes time to travel.

"This means that gamma-ray bursts can tell us more about how the universe expands and evolves over time."


INTERVIEWS: For email questions, contact Prof Razzaque at For interviews via mobile phone / Zoom / WhatsApp with Prof Razzaque, contact Ms Therese van Wyk at or +27 71 139 8407 (mobile) in Johannesburg, UTC + 2.

IMAGES, VIDEO: High resolution versions of the video and photos can be downloaded from

The Nature Astronomy article is titled "High-energy emission from a magnetar giant flare in the Sculptor galaxy"

The research was funded by the University of Johannesburg and National Research Foundation (South Africa) for Soebur Razzaque.


Approximately half of AD dementia cases are mild, one-fifth are severe

(Boston)--What percent of patients with Alzheimer's Disease (AD) currently have severe dementia? Do more people have mild disease? Or are the majority suffering with moderate dementia? A new study using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) sheds light on these trends. Boston University School of Medicine researchers have found that slightly more than half (50.4 percent) of cases are mild, just under one-third (30.3 percent) of cases are moderate and 19.3 percent are severe cases. Among all participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD, the pooled percentage was 45.2 percent for the combined group of mild AD dementia and MCI that later ...

Study looks at how land acquisitions affect climate change

In 2007, an increase in world food prices led to a global rush for land in the form of land grabs or large-scale land acquisitions. Over the last two decades, such acquisitions have resulted in millions of hectares of land changing hands in developing nations. Although such changeover can increase the cultivation of crops needed to feed the world's growing population and spark new agricultural practices and technologies, it can also lead to environmental degradation, increased carbon emissions and threats to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The socioeconomic ...

Saver or spender? People are not as financially responsible as they may think, study shows

Financial responsibility means managing money in a relatively sensible way by minimizing superfluous or unnecessary spending. But according to new research from the University of Notre Dame, people think they are more financially responsible than they actually are. Even when people consistently spend their money superfluously, they still believe that they manage their money in a responsible fashion, according to " END ...

Aggressive video games: Effects on mental health and behaviors in young people

Aggressive video games: Effects on mental health and behaviors in young people
New Rochelle, NY, January 13, 2021--Aggressive video games are not a risk factor for mental health problems, according to a new study of more than 3,000 youth. This study is part of a special issue on the effects of violent video games published in the peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Click here to read the issue now. Christopher Ferguson, PhD, Stetson University, and C.K. John Wang, PhD, Nanyang Technological University, examined whether early exposure to aggressive games was predictive of anxiety depression, somatic symptoms, or ...

Astronomers find signature of magnetar outbursts in nearby galaxies

Astronomers find signature of magnetar outbursts in nearby galaxies
Apart from black holes, magnetars may be the most extreme stars in the universe. With a diameter less than the length of Manhattan, they pack more mass than that of our sun, wield the largest magnetic field of any known object -- more than 10 trillion times stronger than a refrigerator magnet -- and spin on their axes every few seconds. A type of neutron star -- the remnant of a supernova explosion -- magnetars are so highly magnetized that even modest disturbances in the magnetic field can cause bursts of X-rays that last sporadically for weeks or months. These exotic, compact stars are also thought to be the source of some types of short gamma ray bursts (GRBs): bright flashes of highly energetic radiation that have ...

Compound from medicinal herb kills brain-eating amoebae in lab studies

Compound from medicinal herb kills brain-eating amoebae in lab studies
Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a deadly disease caused by the "brain-eating amoeba" Naegleria fowleri, is becoming more common in some areas of the world, and it has no effective treatment. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Chemical Neuroscience have found that a compound isolated from the leaves of a traditional medicinal plant, Inula viscosa or "false yellowhead," kills the amoebae by causing them to commit cell suicide in lab studies, which could lead to new treatments. PAM, characterized by headache, fever, vomiting, hallucinations and seizures, is almost always fatal within a couple of weeks of developing symptoms. Although the disease, which is usually contracted ...

Rare quadruple-helix DNA found in living human cells with glowing probes

Rare quadruple-helix DNA found in living human cells with glowing probes
New probes allow scientists to see four-stranded DNA interacting with molecules inside living human cells, unravelling its role in cellular processes. DNA usually forms the classic double helix shape of two strands wound around each other. While DNA can form some more exotic shapes in test tubes, few are seen in real living cells. However, four-stranded DNA, known as G-quadruplex, has recently been seen forming naturally in human cells. Now, in new research published today in Nature Communications, a team led by Imperial College London scientists have created new probes that can see how G-quadruplexes are interacting ...

NASA missions unmask magnetar eruptions in nearby galaxies

NASA missions unmask magnetar eruptions in nearby galaxies
On April 15, 2020, a brief burst of high-energy light swept through the solar system, triggering instruments on several NASA and European spacecraft. Now, multiple international science teams conclude that the blast came from a supermagnetized stellar remnant known as a magnetar located in a neighboring galaxy. This finding confirms long-held suspicions that some gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) - cosmic eruptions detected in the sky almost daily - are in fact powerful flares from magnetars relatively close to home. "This has always been regarded as a possibility, and several GRBs observed since 2005 have provided tantalizing evidence," said Kevin Hurley, a Senior Space Fellow with the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, ...

Study: Many summer camps don't require childhood immunizations

While most children need to show immunization records to attend school, the same may not be true for camps, a new study suggests. Nearly half of summer camps surveyed by researchers didn't have official policies requiring campers be vaccinated, according to findings led by Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in END ...

A niche for the eye

A niche for the eye
KANSAS CITY, MO--What if the degenerative eye conditions that lead to glaucoma, corneal dystrophy, and cataracts could be detected and treated before vision is impaired? Recent findings from the lab of Investigator Ting Xie, PhD, at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research point to the ciliary body as a key to unlocking this possibility. Previous work from the lab showed that when mouse stem cells were differentiated into light-sensing photoreceptor cells in vitro, and then transplanted back into mice with a degenerative condition of the retina, they could partially restore vision. However, the transplanted photoreceptors only lasted three to four months. "You cannot cure the condition in a diseased eye if you don't know what ...


Dramatic changes to radiotherapy treatments due to COVID-19

UTMB team proves potential for reducing pre-term birth by treating fetus as patient

New technique builds super-hard metals from nanoparticles

Regulating the ribosomal RNA production line

ECMO/CRRT in the treatment of critically ill SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia patients

Risk factors for intraoperative pressure injury in aortic surgery

Predictive value of blood pressure, heart rate, and blood pressure/heart rate ratio in a Chinese subpopulation with vasovagal syncope

A method for calculating optimal parameters of liquid chrystal displays developed at RUDN University

No more needles for diagnostic tests?

A professor from RUDN University developed new liquid crystals

Wet and wild: There's lots of water in the world's most explosive volcano

Exercising muscle combats chronic inflammation on its own

From fins to limbs

UK public supports usage of tracking technology and immunity passports in global pandemic

Climate and carbon cycle trends of the past 50 million years reconciled

Crystal structures in super slow motion

University of Cincinnati research unveils possible new combo therapy for head and neck cancer

NSAIDs might exacerbate or suppress COVID-19 depending on timing, mouse study suggests

Tiny particles that seed clouds can form from trace gases over open sea

Experts call for more pragmatic approach to higher education teaching

A quarter of known bee species haven't appeared in public records since the 1990s

AI trained to read electric vehicle charging station reviews to find infrastructure gaps

Genetic sequence for parasitic flowering plant Sapria

SARS-CoV-2 infection in children, their parents in southwest Germany

The seven rocky planets of TRAPPIST-1 seem to have very similar compositions

Proteins unspool DNA so cells can take on unique properties

Consenting for treatment in advance to reduce leaving the hospital against medical advice among patients with addiction - Experts debate pros and cons

Shift in caribou movements may be tied to human activity

Lack of sleep, stress can lead to symptoms resembling concussion

UMD researcher expands plant genome editing with newly engineered variant of CRISPR-Cas9

[] Rare star's giant gamma-ray burst GRB 204015A captured close to our home galaxy
A star dying soon after the beginning of the universe could be disrupting mobile phone reception today.