Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Kaaret, Philip E

First Committee Member

Kletzing, Craig A

Second Committee Member

Gayley, Kenneth G

Third Committee Member

McEntaffer, Randall L

Fourth Committee Member

Hill, Joanne E


Soft gamma repeaters (SGRs) are neutron stars with ultra-strong magnetic fields, on the order of 1014 G. As the source of the strongest magnetic fields in the universe, they are ideal objects to study the behavior of matter and light in this extreme environment. SGRs emit recurrent short duration, 0.1s, bursts of soft gamma-rays/hard X-rays that are expected to be highly polarized in the 2-10 keV energy range. By measuring the polarization of these bursts we can learn about the strength and configuration of the magnetic fields, the geometry of the emission region and the mass/radius relationship of the neutron star. Using the archival RXTE/PCA data we analyzed ~3 Ms of observations for SGR1806-20 and SGR1900+14. Over 5000 bursts were detected from the sources and each distribution of burst fluence was found to be well fit by a power law with an exponent of 1.60±0.02 for SGR1806-20 and 1.64±0.03 for SGR1900+14. The power law form holds over 4 magnitudes of fluence and the exponents were found to be independent of the level of burst activity. The exponent values suggest that SGR bursts are associated with a self-organized critical system, similar to earthquakes.

To measure the polarization of SGR bursts a wide-field-of-view, large area detector is needed. To accomplish this we designed and tested a negative ion time projection chamber (NITPC) X-ray polarimeter which uses nitromethane (CH3NO¬2) as an electronegative gas additive. Utilizing a double gas electron multiplier (GEM) NITPC with CO2+CH3NO2 as a gas mixture we successfully measured gas gains, imaged photoelectron tracks and measured distributions of their length, measured drift velocity of negative ions in various electric fields, and measured modulation from polarized and unpolarized X-ray sources between 3 and 8 keV. Based on the lab instrument results and our SGR burst fluence analysis we propose an instrument appropriately sized for a NASA Small Mission Explorer Mission (SMEX) that would be capable of measuring the polarization of hundreds of bursts from an SGR in a state of high burst activity.


Drift Velocity, NITPC, Photoelectron track length, Polarization, Soft Gamma Repeater, X-ray


xv, 91 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 86-91).


Copyright 2011 Zachary R. Prieskorn

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