NASA Detects A Burst Stronger Than Any Seen Before
By on May 4th, 2013

A recent blast from a dying star has left astronomers, gaping in awe at the sheer magnitude. A distant eruption, classified now as a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) and named GRB 130427A, has now set the record for the brightest GRB ever. NASA’s Swift satellite and Fermi-LAT, both specialized for the gamma ray part of the spectrum, have recorded this mind-boggling event. Julie McEnery, project scientist for NASA’s Fermi-LAT, said that this was a “shockingly, eye-wateringly bright” burst.

An artist's impression of a GRB. Note the strong jets on either side of the collapsing star. (Courtesy: wikimedia commons)

An artist’s impression of a GRB. Note the strong jets on either side of the collapsing star. (Courtesy: wikimedia commons)

What are GRBs?

Gamma Ray Bursts are the most powerful explosions known to mankind that occur in the Universe, ranked second right after the Big Bang itself. GRBs occur when an extremely massive star collapses into a massive black hole, and the material falling into the black hole heats up so much that it radiates in the gamma ray region of the spectrum. These jets of gamma rays puncture the material envelope of the dying star and can be detected from a long distance. Unlike smaller supernova (which happen for moderately large stars), GRBs are responsible for throwing out a large amount of energy in the surrounding space, often energizing the gas around and making it glow. The duration for such a burst might last from a few milliseconds to minutes or even hours and the burning embers can often be seen for days and months. We generally count the time for which the radiation energy exceeds the GeV (giga-electron volt) threshold, which is about a billion times more energetic than visible light.

Our GRB

For our present GRB, the GeV radiation lasted for hours and it was observed by Fermi-LAT, a space based gamma ray telescope, for a long time. Even ground based telescopes caught more than a glimpse of the GRB. The Swift satellite caught the first glimpse, as it is designated to do, during one of its rounds. Energetic emissions were recorded by Fermi-LAT, with one of the gamma ray lines having an energy of 94 GeV.

This animation is made by stacking a large number of images taken by the Fermi-LAT satellite from 3 minutes before the burst to 14 hours later. You can clearly see the burst and then the radiation flux drops and plateaus off. The burst then rose in flux again and stayed bright (more then GeV energy lines were abundant) over several hours. (Courtesy: NASA/DOE/Fermi-LAT collaboration))

This animation is made by stacking a large number of images taken by the Fermi-LAT satellite from 3 minutes before the burst to 14 hours later. You can clearly see the burst and then the radiation flux drops and plateaus off. The burst then rose in flux again and stayed bright (GeV energy lines were abundant) over several hours. (Courtesy: NASA/DOE/Fermi-LAT collaboration)

Apart from the strong gamma emission lines in the spectrum, there are also lines present in the infrared, visible and radio wavelengths. These were detected by ground-based telescopes. The distance of the burst was estimated to be 3.6 billion light years away, which is actually quite small when it comes to GRBs. This falls within the 5% of the closest GRBs ever recorded.

This is exciting and a lot of backup measurements will follow this initial detection.

More info: www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/shocking-burst.html

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.
  • Lee-Tammy Brewer

    Very interesting read. Please do not take the following literary criticism as anything but an attempt to further the cause of true science – which is so sorely lacking in this day and age (and a lot of time for political agenda).

    Science, by definition, is based on observation.

    The statement, “Gamma Ray Bursts are the most powerful explosions known to mankind that
    occur in the Universe, ranked second right after the Big Bang itself,” is saying the power of a GRB is second only to a theorized event!

    Yes, the statement’s meaning can be derived from context, but only b/c people have constantly had the line between science and theory blurred. When we claim to be scientists we MUST hold ourselves – especially when reporting/teaching others- to a higher standard as dictated by the definition of science: the observation (key word) of data w/ a goal of organization to produce a hypothesis.

    Since there was no observation of the theoretical Big Bang, how can we possibly be serious in comparing an actual, scientifically observed explosion such as a GRB against a theoretical one? If there is one lesson we need to learn from history it is that as man reaches new heights he gains more information, and therefore his base of rock-solid “facts” change. Eventually today’s fact is seen as yesterday’s unenlightened perspective. Sometimes our once-respected “scientific” facts even plunge to the depths of being called foolishness.

    In its day, the theory of the 4 bodily humors was accepted as a scientific fact. People would have been “crazy” to think otherwise. The humor theory was so unquestionable that doctors accidentally took lives – instead of saving them – through the practice of bloodletting! Scientific research as to the validity of the humor theory was always possible., but the theory was not questioned since it was “known ” to be “fact.” Hence people were unwittingly killed by those sworn to heal them.

    Unfortunately, the people of today are brainwashed in the same manner concerning the Big Bang.

    The Big Bang is, and always will remain a theory until it can be (?) observed. Then and only then is it a scientific fact. And until the scientific community is prepared to hold themselves accountable to fact, we will continue to blur the line between fact and theory until the line is no longer discernible by anyone b/c further research becomes “verified” by (ignorantly) using theory as its basis. Eventually the house of cards will come tumbling down.

    A corrected version of the above quote would take but one more word.” Is not one word worth keeping the world of science separate from fiction?

    An accurate scientific statement would have been, “Gamma Ray Bursts are the most powerful explosions known to mankind that occur in the Universe, ranked second right after the theorized Big Bang itself.” To lose the factual modifier “theorized” is to contribute to the “dumbing down” of society and only serves to produce ignorance of fact.

    Again, this is not a criticism aimed at the author. Unfortunately it seems most scientific writings of the age we live in are hurting the cause of science by helping to blur the line of fact – ofttimes without even realizing it. Personally I see this practice as a modern “Dark Ages.”

    Also there is a sad truth we see in our modern “scientific” community. It is not difficult to find a tendency toward negative peer pressure aimed at those who strive to keep science pure by using proper modifiers. The initiators of this peer pressure need be seen for what they are… a hypocritical hindrance to what they claim to stand for.

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    The happenings around the universe and nature, it can be observed simply not true. But also quite interesting.

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    things happening in outer space, it has always attracted the curious. it is the untold mystery and I like it

 
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