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Gamma-ray bursts from high-velocity neutron stars


RECENT observations with the BATSE instrument on the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory show that the distribution of γ-ray bursts is isotropic but radially non-uniform1. Spectral features, time histories and the presence of X-ray tails suggest that the bursts arise from galactic neutron stars2, but low-velocity neutron stars born in the galactic disk would be concentrated towards the galactic plane3,4, which would not fit the BATSE results. Neutron stars born with velocities greater than 800 km s−1 will, however, escape from the Galaxy's gravitational field. We show here that a population of such objects can fit the γ-ray burst distributions found by BATSE and also the Pioneer Venus Orbiter5, although two important conditions must be met: the high-velocity neutron stars should turn on as burst sources only after some time (perhaps after they have ceased to be radiopulsars), and the low-velocity neutron stars must rarely generate γ-ray bursts. The observed correlation6–8 in pulsars between magnetic moment and velocity may provide a physical cause for the difference in bursting properties between the two populations. Our model implies that the brightest bursts, with fluxes 3 × 10−5 erg cm−2s−1, will be anisotropically distributed.

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Li, H., Dermer, C. Gamma-ray bursts from high-velocity neutron stars. Nature 359, 514–516 (1992).

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