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April 30, 2010

VLA Probes Mysterious Magnetar

Tens of thousands of years ago, an explosive release of energy on the magnetar SGR 1806-20 sent a pulse of gamma rays racing across the cosmos at the speed of light. NASA's brand-new Swift satellite detected the gamma rays as they swept past Earth on Dec. 27, 2004. Then behind them came a steady stream of radio waves from the explosion's expanding fireball--an information-rich signal astronomers using the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array of radio telescopes have been studying ever since.

It was the brightest outburst ever seen coming from an object beyond our own solar system, and its energy overpowered most orbiting telescopes. The burst of gamma rays and X-rays even disturbed the Earth's ionosphere, causing a sudden disruption in some radio communications.

This image accompanied NSF press release, "VLA Probes Secrets of Mysterious Magnetar."

Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

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