Out of this world discovery
A University of Leicester astro physicist helped discover a cosmic explosion which has led scientists to think differently about what happens when stars die.
Dr Kim Page was watching Doctor Who on Christmas Day last year when she received a text message alert from a NASA satellite called Swift, telling her it had detected a gamma-ray burst.
Dying stars shoot out gamma rays when they explode – an event which is among the most violent in the universe.
Explosions of this type usually last a few hundred seconds, said Dr Page, but this one was half an hour long and therefore "completely different" from others they had seen before.
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Dr Page, who was on call last Christmas when the satellite detected the huge explosion, said: "I went online to discuss it with other people who are part of the project and then sent round e-mails to people in the gamma ray community to let them know."
After the explosion happened it took more than 100 days before it could be seen through a telescope. The explosion has subsequently been called The Christmas Burst and the international team of scientists who are part of the Swift mission, including Dr Page, have published their work on the discovery.
Following their investigation of The Christmas Burst they believe the explosion was the result of a neutron star and a helium-rich star merging, an explanation that has never been put forward before.
This challenges the long-held belief that explosions are caused in two different ways – either when a massive star explodes or when two dense stars collide.
Dr Page said: "A lot of the gamma ray bursts are very similar but every now and then you get one that is totally different and we have to put our thinking caps on and think about what is different.
"It could not be explained by the standard models."
"It did disturb the last 10 minutes of Doctor Who but it is always fun to have a burst on a special day like Christmas so we can give it a name.
"It has shown us there is more stuff we do not know and we would never say we understand everything about gamma ray bursts. This is the only one of its type we have seen."
Dr Page is part of a team that has been looking at gamma ray bursts using Swift for the past seven years since the satellite was launched.