Detection of a radio counterpart to the 27 December 2004 giant flare from SGR 1806–20

Abstract

It was established over a decade ago that the remarkable high-energy transients known as soft γ-ray repeaters (SGRs) are located in our Galaxy1,2 and originate from neutron stars with intense (≤ 1015G) magnetic fields—so-called ‘magnetars’3. On 27 December 2004, a giant flare4 with a fluence5 exceeding 0.3 erg cm-2 was detected from SGR 1806–20. Here we report the detection of a fading radio counterpart to this event. We began a monitoring programme from 0.2 to 250 GHz and obtained a high-resolution 21-cm radio spectrum that traces the intervening interstellar neutral hydrogen clouds. Analysis of the spectrum yields the first direct distance measurement of SGR 1806 - 20: the source is located at a distance greater than 6.4 kpc and we argue that it is nearer than 9.8 kpc. If correct, our distance estimate lowers the total energy of the explosion and relaxes the demands on theoretical models. The energetics and the rapid decay of the radio source are not compatible with the afterglow model that is usually invoked for γ-ray bursts. Instead, we suggest that the rapidly decaying radio emission arises from the debris ejected during the explosion.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Broadband temporal behaviour of the transient radio source coincident with SGR 1806–20.
Figure 2: Cold atomic and molecular hydrogen spectra towards SGR 1806 - 20.

References

  1. 1

    Kulkarni, S. R. & Frail, D. A. Identification of a supernova remnant coincident with the soft gamma-ray repeater SGR1806 - 20. Nature 365, 33–35 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Murakami, T. et al. X-Ray identification of the soft gamma-ray repeater 1806 - 20. Nature 368, 127–128 (1994)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Woods, P. M. & Thompson, C. Soft gamma repeaters and anomalous x-ray pulsars: Magnetar candidates. In Compact Stellar X-ray Sources (eds Lewin, W. H. G. & van der Klis, M.) (Cambridge Astrophysics Series, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, in the press); preprint at http://arXiv.org/astro-ph/0406133 (2004)

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Borkowski, J. et al. Giant flare from SGR 1806 - 20 detected by INTEGRAL. GRB Circ. Network 2920 (2004)

  5. 5

    Boggs, S. et al. SGR 1806 - 20, RHESSI observations of the 041227 giant flare. GRB Circ. Network 2936 (2005)

  6. 6

    Cameron, P. B. & Kulkarni, S. R. VLA observations of SGR 1806 - 20. GRB Circ. Network 2928 (2005)

  7. 7

    Kaplan, D. L. et al. Precise Chandra localization of the soft gamma-ray repeater SGR 1806 - 20. Astrophys. J. 564, 935–940 (2002)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Frail, D. A., Kulkarni, S. R. & Bloom, J. S. An outburst of relativistic particles from the soft gamma-ray repeater SGR 1900 + 14. Nature 398, 127–129 (1999)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Feroci, M., Hurley, K., Duncan, R. C. & Thompson, C. The giant flare of 1998 August 27 from SGR 1900 + 14. I. An interpretive study of BeppoSAX and Ulysses observations. Astrophys. J. 549, 1021–1038 (2001)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Gaensler, B. M. et al. Second-epoch VLA observations of SGR 1806 - 20. GRB Circ. Network 2933 (2005)

  11. 11

    Corbel, S. & Eikenberry, S. S. The connection between W31, SGR 1806 - 20, and LBV 1806 - 20: Distance, extinction, and structure. Astron. Astrophys. 419, 191–201 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Kolpak, M. A., Jackson, J. M., Bania, T. M. & Dickey, J. M. The radial distribution of cold atomic hydrogen in the galaxy. Astrophys. J. 578, 868–876 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Corbel, S. et al. The distance of the soft gamma repeater SGR 1806 - 20. Astrophys. J. 478, 624–630 (1997)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Hartmann, D. & Burton, W. B. Atlas of Galactic Neutral Hydrogen. Ch. 4, 169 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1997)

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Garwood, R. W. & Dickey, J. M. Cold atomic gas in the inner Galaxy. Astrophys. J. 338, 841–861 (1989)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Figer, D. F., Najarro, F. & Kudritzki, R. P. The double-lined spectrum of LBV 1806 - 20. Astrophys. J. 610, L109–L112 (2004)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Nakar, E., Gal-Yam, A., Piran, T., Fox, D. B. The distances of short-hard GRBs and the SGR connection. Astrophys. J. (submitted); preprint at http://arXiv.org/astro-ph/0502148 (2005).

  18. 18

    Fuchs, Y. et al. ISO observations of the environment of the soft gamma-ray repeater SGR 1806 - 20. Astron. Astrophys. 350, 891–899 (1999)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Gaensler, B. M. et al. A stellar wind bubble coincident with the anomalous X-ray pulsar 1E 1048.1-5937: Are magnetars formed from massive progenitors? Astrophys. J. 620, L95–L98 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Pacholczyk, A. G. Radio Astrophysics. Nonthermal Processes in Galactic and Extragalactic Sources (Series of Books in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Freeman, San Francisco, 1970)

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Scott, M. A. & Readhead, A. C. S. The low-frequency structure of powerful radio sources and limits to departures from equipartition. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 180, 539–550 (1977)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Frail, D. A., Waxman, E. & Kulkarni, S. R. A 450-day light curve of the radio afterglow of GRB 970508: Fireball calorimetry. Astrophys. J. 537, 191–204 (2000)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Cheng, K. S. & Wang, X. Y. The radio afterglow from the giant flare of SGR 1900 + 14: The same mechanisms as afterglows from classic gamma-ray bursts? Astrophys. J. 593, L85–L88 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Nakar, E., Piran, T., Sari, R. Giant flares as mini gamma ray bursts. Preprint at http://arXiv.org/astro-ph/0502052 (2005).

  25. 25

    Wang, X. Y., Wu, X. F., Fan, Y. Z., Dai, Z. G. & Zhang, B. An energetic blast wave from the December 27 giant flare of soft γ-ray repeater 1806 - 20. Astrophys. J. 623, L29–L32 (2005).

  26. 26

    Hjellming, R. M. et al. Light curves and radio structure of the 1999 September transient event in V4641 Sagittarii (= XTE J1819-254 = SAX J1819.3-2525). Astrophys. J. 544, 977–992 (2000)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

ATCA is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operations as a National Facility managed by CSIRO. We thank K. Newton-McGee and B. Gaensler for scheduling and performing observations with the ATCA. GMRT is run by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics—Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, India. We thank the GMRT staff and in particular C. H. Ishwara-Chandra and D. V. Lal for help with observations and analysis. The VLA is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. NMA is a branch of the National Astronomical Observatory, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Japan. IRAM is supported by INSU/CNRS (France), MPG (Germany) and IGN (Spain). We thank A. Weiss from IRAM for help with the observations. We gratefully acknowledge discussions with S. Corbel, S. S. Eikenberry and R. Sari. Our work is supported in part by the NSF and NASA.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to P. B. Cameron.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

The file contains observational details and analysis methods. (PDF 40 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cameron, P., Chandra, P., Ray, A. et al. Detection of a radio counterpart to the 27 December 2004 giant flare from SGR 1806–20. Nature 434, 1112–1115 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03605

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.
Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing