Ultrabright Gamma-ray Burst "Blinded" NASA Telescope
2010 07 15
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.
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
Sweden is so deranged, there are no words to describe it – Danish politician
Politically correct Sweden is such a deranged society that there is no term in social science sufficient enough to describe it – argues Pia Kjærsgaard the Danish People’s Party former leader
In this article in Den Korte Avis, Kjærsgaard marvels at the fact that the politically correct are so desperate that they have graduated from using worn-out epiteths such as neo-fascists, ...
U.N. sending thousands of Muslims to America
The federal government is preparing for another “surge” in refugees and this time they won’t be coming illegally from Central America.
The U.S. State Department announced this week that the first major contingent of Syrian refugees, 9,000 of them, have been hand-selected by the United Nations for resettlement into communities across the United States.
The announcement came Tuesday on the State Department’s ...
Why You Should Watch Beheading Videos
Modernity is a dream. It is a dream that we can make the world something other than what it is through technology, prosperity, and above all “education.”
People will able to pick their own “gender.” Different cultures, races, and religions can blend into one seamless, corporate-friendly whole. And violence and death, it is implied, will be wished out of existence.
Today, a ...
CIA torture is reason for France to exit NATO – Le Pen
The shocking revelations of CIA torture techniques give France a reason to exit NATO, National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said on Saturday. The report on the CIA’s former interrogation practices has drawn wide criticism since its release.
“If indeed everyone is outraged by the tortures used by the US then, let’s leave NATO,” Le Pen said during an interview ...
900 Documented Examples of Obama's Lawbreaking, Lying, Corruption, Cronyism, Hypocrisy & Waste
Our friend, Dan from Squirrel Hill, has updated his list to 900 documented examples of Barack Obama's lying, lawbreaking, corruption, cronyism, etc. He began with 252 examples, then quickly grew to 504 and later to 694. Recently, he added more than 200 more examples of the usurper-in-chief's unlawful acts.
Every President, every politician, and every human being tells lies and engages ...
|More News » |