Polarized radio waves originating from a gamma-ray burst (GRB) have been detected for the first time. The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers led by Tanmoy Lasker at the UK’s University of Bath and provides important information about relativistic jets associated with GRBs and the patchwork of magnetic fields between stars.
GRBs are extremely energetic explosions that are believed to occur when a large star collapses to form a black hole or neutron star. They can last for milliseconds to hours and emit vast amounts of electromagnetic radiation – briefly shining billions of times brighter than the Sun. Most of the explosion is thought to be focused in two narrow jets of matter that blast out at nearly the speed of light in opposite directions, but astronomers know very little about the astrophysical processes involved in forming these jets.
One popular theory is that the jets are structurally supported by magnetic fields that permeate interstellar space. These fields exist in mosaic-like arrangements of patches; each of which contains a field pointing in a different direction.
An ideal opportunity to test this theory came in January 2019, when NASA’s Swift Observatory spotted GRB 190114C, which is ...