Ultrabright Gamma-ray Burst "Blinded" NASA Telescope
2010 07 15

From: nationalgeographic.com



A flash of light that likely signaled the birth of a black hole was so bright it briefly blinded a NASA telescope—even though the light came from five billion light-years away.

From its orbit around Earth, the Swift telescope has been scanning the skies since 2004 for mysterious, ultrabright flashes known as gamma-ray bursts.

Gamma rays are the most energetic forms of light, which means they're capable of penetrating even denser chunks of matter than x-rays, noted Swift lead scientist David Burrows. Because of this, we can see gamma rays that have traveled from sources at very edges of the observable universe.

(See a picture of a gamma-ray burst that was visible to the naked eye.)

About once a day somewhere in the sky there’s a brilliant burst of gamma rays. Astronomers think these bursts happen when the cores of very massive, dying stars collapse, generating powerful explosions and giving rise to new black holes.

Swift was designed to look for these bright events and study the initial flash of gamma rays and high-energy x-rays as well as the "afterglow" of lower-energy x-rays and ultraviolet light. Even though it can’t scan the whole sky at once, the telescope typically finds about two gamma-ray bursts a week.

But on June 21 a rush of light from a minute-long gamma-ray burst proved so overwhelming that Swift’s data processing software temporarily shut down.

"This thing was so bright it completely saturated the detectors," said Burrows, who is also a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University.

Swift "wasn’t hurt or anything. But the software on the ground thought something was wrong with the data and threw it out. We didn’t catch what happened for almost a week."

"Blinding" Light Sets a Gamma-ray Record

Luckily Swift team member Phil Evans, a postdoctoral researcher at the U.K.’s University of Leicester, went back through the scrapped data and discovered the burst’s true power.

Until now, scientists thought the brightest gamma-ray bursts sent out a maximum of 10,000 x-ray photons a second.

But at its peak, the newfound burst sent out 145,000 photons a second, Burrows said—making this gamma-ray burst 10 to 15 times brighter than anything previously seen by Swift’s x-ray telescope.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past couple weeks trying to figure out if there was some kind of mistake," Burrows said. "But as far as we can tell, this is correct."

(Related: "Gamma-Ray Burst Caused Mass Extinction?")

Now the scientists are puzzling over what could have caused this particular burst to be a record setter.

What they do know is that the light must be coming from very close to the newborn black hole, which must be a relatively small object.

"You can't get a large object flickering this quickly. It would have to be something very small and compact," Burrows said.

Bright Bursts Can Be Cosmic Lighthouses

The blinding oddity adds a new wrinkle to future plans to use gamma-ray bursts to study the origins of the universe.

(Related: "Most Distant Object Found; Light Pierced 'Dark Age' Fog.")

One mission in the works, dubbed Xenia, proposes to use the bursts like beams from cosmic lighthouses, looking not at a burst itself, but at the distant dust and gases briefly illuminated by the explosion.

Using light from a gamma-ray burst, "we can measure the properties of gases between us and the burst and get information on the material in the very early history of the universe," Burrows said.

The newfound burst, he said, means that Xenia mission designers will have to go back to the drawing board to make sure the probe will be able to handle the brightest flashes the universe can dish out.

Source: nationalgeographic.com



Related Articles
Milky Way Black Hole May Be a Colossal Particle Accelerator
Exploding Stars: Is Earth at Risk?
Satellites Track Strange "Earth Energy"
Scientists Observe Brightest Cosmic Explosion Ever Recorded
Anniversary of a cosmic blast


Latest News from our Front Page

Group Polarization and the Fad of Ethno-masochism
2014 11 26
From "Group polarization: A critical review and meta-analysis". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 6 50 (6): 1141--1151 The psychology of White self hatred. Political correctness IS a mental disorder. More: Group polarization: A critical review and meta-analysis. Isenberg, Daniel J. the paper Indoctrinate U Harvard Professor Noel Ignatiev talks about how to end the White race The History of Political Correctness The Narrative: The origins of Political ...
Credo: A Nietzschean Testament by Jonathan Bowden
2014 11 26
This lecture by Jonathan Bowden was given at the 11th New Right meeting in London on September 8, 2007. The original title of the presentation was “The Art and Philosophy of Jonathan Bowden.” I think ideas are inborn, and you’re attracted, if you have any, toward certain systems of thinking and sensibility and response. From a very young age, I was ...
A Look Back at the OJ Simpson Verdict -- Reactions
2014 11 26
This is a look back at the different reactions to the OJ Simpson verdict some 20 years ago (exact date of verdict was Oct 3, 1995). The OJ Simpson jury consisted of 9 Blacks, 1 Hispanic, and 2 Whites. It would raise eyebrows after they only deliberated for 4 hours in a case that they were involved in for almost ...
New York Times Publishes Darren Wilson’s Street Address and Photo of House #Ferguson
2014 11 26
Hey here are the two @nytimes scumbags that published Wilson’s home address. —> @juliebosman & @campbellnyt— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) November 25, 2014 Michael Brown’s Stepdad Shouting ‘Burn This Bitch Down’ The New York Times published information about the address of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Monday in a move that has generated controversy. Tensions are running high in Ferguson, Missouri, as ...
How Monsanto is Destroying the Brains and Health of Everyone
2014 11 25
Interested in slowing your aging process? Take note! One of my most recent blog entries summarized roughly 10 years of research related to the consequences of inflammatory processes in the periphery of the body, such as the gut, and how this was driving brain degenerative inflammatory processes within the brain. One of the key findings from that research was how pathogenic ...
More News »