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Solar sail captures massive space explosion

A Japanese solar sail, the world's first, has caught a huge gamma-ray burst, caused by the explosion of a dying star.

Japan's Ikaros solar sail – the world's first spacecraft to be propelled by sunlight – had observed a massive explosion in space.

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A camera riding on the world's first deep space solar sail has managed to observe a violent gamma-ray burst — one of the most powerful explosions in the universe, Japanese space officials have announced.

The Ikaros solar sail detected the first gamma-ray burst with its onboard GAmma-ray burst Polarized light detector (GAP) on July 7, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in an announcement.

Gamma-ray bursts are the dying explosion of large stars that have run out of fuel. The collapsing star cores can form either black holes or neutron stars, and emit an intense burst of high-energy gamma-rays.

IN PICTURES: Where stars form

These gamma-ray bursts, as they're called, are some of the brightest explosions in space. One gamma-ray burst, which was observed by NASA's Swift satellite June 21, was so powerful and bright that it temporarily blinded the space observatory, NASA officials said.

Satellites in space routinely keep watch for powerful gamma-ray bursts, but the GAP instrument on Ikaros is designed to make the first-ever detection of polarized light from the cosmic explosions.

"Polarized light observations will contribute to elucidate the magnetic structure and the radiation mechanism of gamma-ray bursts, thus they are expected to greatly help solve the mystery of the death of massive stars and the birth of black holes," JAXA officials said.

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