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Cosmic Rays
Gamma Bursts
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HM Cancri
HM Cancri
Artwork: Rob Haynes, Louisiana State University       

Most extreme binary shows orbital period of a mere 5 minutes

That is real fast: Two suns orbit each other in a mere 5.4 minutes. This makes HM Cancri the binary star system with by far the shortest known orbital period - and at the same time the smallest binary known. Its size is equivalent to no more than a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, about 100,000 kilometres. This has been shown by an international team of astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutions.

    external link Original publication
        ApJ 711, L138-L142 (2010);

    external link MPG press release
    external link Warwick University press release
    external link Keck observatory press release

Contact at MPE: A. Rau VerweisArne Rau
(March 09, 2010)
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photon arrival times
Photon arrival times
(for details see Nature paper)
Image: Nature
Testing Einstein's Special Relativity with
Gamma-Ray Burst Photons

Einstein's special relativity postulates that observers see the same speed of light in vacuum, independent of photon-energy. At a fundamental scale (the Planck scale), quantum effects are expected to affect the nature of space-time, and Lorentz invariance might become violated. MPE scientists have been involved in a key test of such violation, namely the possible variation of photon speed with energy over cosmological light-travel times. This became possible by the detection of emission from keV up to 31 GeV energies with the Fermi satellite's instruments (GBM, LAT) from the distant and short gamma-ray burst GRB090510. No violation of Lorentz invariance was found to 1 part in 1017, placing the tightest limits so far and eliminating some quantum-gravity theories.
(Abdo et al., Nature 461, Oct 2009)

external link Stanford University News
external link Nature original publication
    linkJ. Greiner
    linkA. von Kienlin
(November 05, 2009)
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In this picture the afterglow of GRB090423 is the red object shining only in some of the used color channels.


Gamma-Ray Burst 090423 detected at a record distance

Following a Gamma-Ray burst alarm of the NASA Swift Satellite on April 23, several groups world-wide started searching for the afterglow emission. The MPE built  linkGROND instrument mounted at the MPI/ESO telesope at La Silla Observatory (Chile) observed this afterglow simultaneously in the spectral bands g'r'i'z'JHK about 15 hours after the burst. The simultaneous measurements in the seven spectral bands enabled scientists at MPE led by Jochen Greiner, to rapidly estimate the redshift of the burst to be around z = 8 which puts it into a new record distance. [  internal linkmore ]

(April 28, 2009)
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GRB 080916C

31.7 hours after GRB 080916C exploded, the MPE Gamma-Ray Burst Optical/Near-Infrared Detector (GROND), began acquiring images of the blast's fading afterglow (circled).

Image: MPE / GROND


The first gamma-ray burst to be seen with substantial GeV emission from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is one for the record books. The blast had the greatest total energy, the fastest motions and the highest-energy initial emissions ever seen. [  internal linkmore ]

external link Fermi / NASA press release

The Fermi team's results were first published on February 19, 2009 in the online edition of the journal Science.
external link Original article in Science Express

The GROND results will be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
external link GROND results preprint
(February 19, 2009)
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CTA-1 pulsar

Radio map of the supernova remnant CTA-1. The position of the pulsar and it's light curve are indicated.

Image credit: NASA / S. Pineault, DRAO / G. Kanbach, MPE.

Young pulsar shines in the gamma-ray sky

Neutron star discovered in the centre of the nearby supernova relict CTA 1

For the first time scientists have discovered a rotating neutron star - a pulsar - by means of its gamma radiation. The international team led by Gottfried Kanbach from the MPE used the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope for their observations. The neutron star is one of only ten high-energy pulsars discovered so far.

external link MPG press release (in German language)
external link NASA press release
external link Fermi News

external link Original paper:
A. A. Abdo
Discovery of a gamma-ray pulsar in the young galactic supernova-remnant CTA 1 with the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope

Science Express of 16 October 2008;
(alphabetical author list)
(October 16, 2008)
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Artist's impression of the observed object

Image Credit: A. Stefanescu, MPE

Surprising Flashes from a possible Magnetar
Observations of optical flares reveal limits of established theories on magnetars

By means of the high-speed photometer OPTIMA of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), a team of MPE scientists might have detected an unexpected new sub-category of astronomical objects. It appears to be a magnetar with bursts in the visible part of the spectrum, in contrast to the X-ray and gamma flashes, which are considered to be characteristic for magnetars.

internal link MPE press release (in German language)
external link Original paper:
Nature 455, 503-505 (25 September 2008)
external link "Editor's Summary" of the Nature issue that contains the paper

internal link OPTIMA web pages at MPE
(September 24, 2008)
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Grond Logo

Image Credit: MPE

GROND confirms farthest-ever Gamma-Ray Burst

GROND, the Gamma-Ray Burst Optical Near-IR Detector, has found the most distant gamma-ray burst ever detected. The observation demonstrates the excellent performance of GROND, which was developed at the MPE. The burst occurred less than 825 million years after the Universe began. The star that popped off this shot seen across the cosmos died when the Universe was less than one-sixteenth its present age.

internal link MPE press release (in German language)
external link NASA press release

internal link GROND pages at MPE
(September 18, 2008)
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FERMI first light

First all-sky image taken by the Large Area Telescope of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

Image Credit:
NASA/DOE/International LAT Team

GLAST First Light
GLAST Burst Monitor detects 31 Gamma Bursts

GLAST, the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope, has begun its mission of exploring the universe in high-energy gamma rays. The spacecraft and its revolutionary instruments passed their orbital checkout with flying colors. GBM, the GLAST Burst Monitor, spotted 31 gamma-ray bursts in its first month of operations.
NASA announced today that GLAST has been renamed the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

internal link MPE press release (in German language)
external link NASA press release

internal link GLAST Burst Monitor at MPE
(August 26, 2008)
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Artist's concept: GLAST in orbit

Image Credit: General Dynamics C4 Systems

NASA's GLAST Space Telescope takes off

Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics developed detectors of GLAST Burst Monitor

The Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope GLAST was launched on June 11, 2008 aboard a Delta II from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA. In collaboration with other institutes the MPE was involved in the development of the secondary instrument GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM). The new space telescope will detect gamma-ray bursts and so open the high-energy Universe to exploration. Because of problems with the Delta II rocket the launch had been rescheduled several times during the past months.

internal link MPE press release (in German language)
internal link GLAST Burst Monitor at MPE
internal link MPG press release (MS-Word document; about GLAST, Phoenix, and the new MPI in Florida)
external link GLAST at NASA
external link DLR news

(June 11, 2008)
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X-ray Binary

The artistic view shows a cataclysmic variable, the kind of close binary systems that host classical novae

Credit: Mark A. Garlick

Turbulent Disk

Asymmetric accretion disk causes X-ray flux variations in bright supersoft nova

A team led by Gloria Sala from the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics has studied the Nova V5116 Sagittarii with the ESA X-ray observatory XMM-Newton and found abrupt decreases and increases of the flux, but an unchanged white dwarf atmosphere temperature both in the low- and the high-flux periods. A partial eclipse caused by an asymmetric accretion disk might explain the results.

internal link MPE press release
external link ESA news release

Original paper:
external link Astrophys. Journ. Letters, 675, L93 - L96, 2008
(April 3, 2008)
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positron emission X-ray binary distribution

Antimatter (above) and X-ray binaries (below) show a similar distribution in the central region of the Milky Way.

Images: G. Weidenspointner, MPE

Antimatter from X-ray Binaries?

A first hint at the production of positrons by X-ray binaries in the Galaxy

Observations with the European INTEGRAL satellite give scientists a first clue to the possible origin of the mysterious antimatter in our Galaxy. Antimatter is distributed non-symmetric in the central region of the Milky Way much similar to the distribution of X-ray binaries in the Galaxy.
As reported in Nature on Jan. 10, 2008, an international team of astronomers led by Georg Weidenspointner of MPE interprets this unexpected discovery as a first hint at the production of antimatter by X-ray binaries in the Galaxy.

external link ESA press release
external link NASA press release
external link MPG press release   (in German)
Original publication:
external link Nature 451, 159 - 162 (2008)

(January 10, 2008)
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Fe 60

Traces of the radioactive decay of Fe-60 in the interstellar gas of the Galaxy. The picture shows an overlay of the weak gamma-ray lines at 1173 and 1332 to enhance the signal.

Picture: MPE

Radioactive iron, a window to the stars

Scientist from MPE using ESA's orbiting gamma-ray observatory, Integral, have made a pioneering unequivocal discovery of radioactive iron-60 in our galaxy that provides powerful insight into the workings of massive stars that pervade and shape it.

external link ESA Space Science News  
exteral link MPG Press Release
(in German language)


exteral link Integral Picture of the Month (June 2007)

(June 26, 2007)
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NJP Focus on Gamma Ray Bursts

The first contributions to a focus issue on Gamma-Ray Bursts, edited by Charles Dermer, Dieter Hartmann and Jochen Greiner, have now been published in external link New Journal of Physics (NJP).

All contributions are permanently free to read at
      external link

Further contributions to this issue will appear in the near future.

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Swift detects most distant Gamma-Ray Burst ever observed


Life-cycle of a star. Gamma-ray bursts are the beacons of star death and black hole birth.

Image: Nicolle Rager Fuller/NSF

Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite and several ground-based telescopes have detected the most distant explosion yet, a gamma-ray burst from the edge of the visible universe at redshift of z = 6.29.
This powerful burst was detected September 4. It marks the death of a massive star and the birth of a black hole. It comes from an era soon after stars and galaxies first formed, about 500 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

external link NASA Press Release

external link NASA Science Update

external link ESO Press Release

external link BBC News

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Strongest so far observed Gamma-Ray Burst of a Magnetar measured with


Magnetar with an extreme magnetic field.
Such an object is proposed to be the source of the intense Gamma-Ray Burst.

Image: R. Mallozzi/NASA

On December 27, 2004 at 21:30:26 UT the earth was hit by a huge wave front of gamma and X-rays. It was the strongest flux of high-energetic gamma radiation measured so far. The wave front was in addition more intense than the strongest radiation burst measured so far from our sun. The remarkable aspect of this discovery is the origin of this radiation: it originates from a tiny celestial body with an extreme density, a neutron star, a so-called magnetar, and with an extremely strong magnetic field which is located on the other side of our Milky Way at a distance of about 50 000 light years. It is expected that this event will cast new light on the physics of magnetars and that it will contribute to solve an old puzzle concerning the gamma-ray bursts.
Verweis more

external link Press Release of the Max Planck Society (in German)

external link NASA Science Update

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First Light for all Swift Telescopes

X-ray telescope Cas A
Cas A
Image: NASA

The X-ray telescope (XRT) onboard Swift captured it's first light image by pointing towards the supernova remnant Cas A.

Burst Alert telescope
Cygnus with BAT
Cygnus Region
Image: NASA

The Burst Alert telescope (BAT) has seen it's first light by pointing towards the Cygnus region and detecting Cyg X-1 (top) and Cyg X-3 (bottom).

UV and Optical telescope
UVOT : M 101
M 101
Image: University of Leicester, UK

The UV-Optical telescope (UVOT) took it's first light picture on February 1st, 2005 pointing twards the galaxy M 101.

The first Gamma-ray Burst seen by Swift was detected on December 11, 2004.

The first Gamma-Ray Burst afterglow was observed on December 23, 2004. The decay light curve, the spectrum and an exact position of the burst was measured.

Image: NASA

This is also good news for MPE, as we are actively participating in the Swift project (calibration at Panter facility, software development, and the definition of the up-coming Swift operations procedures).

external link Press release of the Universty of Leicester, UK
external link NASA Press Release,     external link NASA "First-Light" Images
external link BBC News, UK
external link Space Today
external link Spaceflight Now

external link More information on Swift
link pictures taken during the Swift X-ray telescope (XRT) calibration at MPE Panter facility (2005-01-17 and 2005-02-23)

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Contact person:   linkJ. Greiner
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