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I’m a little late, but GRBs are awesome!

March 27, 2008

This was covered in every science blog last week, but you see it now. Why? Don’t question me!

On March 19th, the most energetic sky event ever was observed by telescopes across the planet. This even is known as a gamma ray burst. GRBs are huge displays of gamma rays that originate from a star whose core has collapsed into a black hole. GRBs are detected fairly infrequently, mainly by orbiting satellites. The initial event is fairly quick, but it leaves an afterglow that can last for a couple minutes.

This GRB was special in that it exploded with a magnitude that was visible to the naked eye! This is the first to do that. What’s even more amazing is that the star that imploded was 7.5 billion light years away. In other words, this event happened 7.5 billion years ago, and the star was so far away that the light from the GRB didn’t reach us until last week. For some perspective, the universe is estimated to be only 13-15 billion years old, so this outburst occurred when the universe was half as old as it is now!

Now, a light year is equal to 5,878,625,373,183.61 miles. Multiply that number by 7.5 billion, and that’s how far away, in miles, this star was. And we saw it’s death with the naked eye. Holy shit.

The left photo is from the Swift X-ray ‘scope, and the right is from an ultraviolet/optical light telescope. That huge-ass explosion was 44,089,690,298,877,080,000,000 miles away and we saw it here.

Update: Here’s another interesting perspective on the distance: our Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across. So, if you line up 440,896,902,988,770,800 Milky Ways end-to-end, you’d finally reach that star.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2008 4:48 am

    Thanks for sharing this. Wow, it happened in our lifetime.

    I wanted to pull this line out from your link for more general consumption…….

    GRB 080319B was one of four bursts that Swift detected, a Swift record for one day. “Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma ray bursts,” said Swift science team member Judith Racusin of Penn State University in University Park, Pa.

  2. March 28, 2008 3:21 pm

    Yes, they’re actually considering calling it the Clark event.

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