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Final Report Summary - EXTREME ASTROPHYSICS (Extreme Astrophysics: Ultra-compact binaries and gamma-ray bursts)

Long-duration gamma-ray bursts are the most energetic explosions in the Universe. They occur during the formation of a black hole from the collapsing core of a rapidly-rotating massive star. The outer parts of the core are ejected in the supernova explosion that forms the black hole and fall back to form a disc of material that orbits the newly-formed back hole. Accretion of this disc onto the black hole produces jets; if these jets point towards us we see the gamma-rays that form the gamma-ray burst.
Although the existance of gamma-ray bursts has been known since early space experiments in the 1960s, the real scientific breakthroughs in our understanding have come in the last 15 years. Some key theoretical problems remain, however, in understanding these events. The central problem is how to keep the stellar core spinning rapidly enough to the end of the massive star’s life. We have shown that a natural way to keep the core spinning is for it to be in a binary system of two massive stars orbiting one another, and that this forms a natural explanation for some of the observed features of long-duration gamma-ray bursts.

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