Posted on December 3rd, 2013

Out of This World – A Cosmic Explosion

SwiftNASA’s Swift X-Ray Telescope took this image of the gamma-ray burst seconds after it became visible.

Stars do not go ‘peacefully into that good night,’ in all actuality there is nothing peaceful about a star living or dead. Astronomers were able to witness this first hand back on April 27th when a very distant star exploded in a gamma-ray burst, one of the brightest on record. It is believed that stars emit these gamma-ray burst while dying and forming a black hole. As the star runs out of fuel at its core, and proceeds to collapse under itself, a black hole is formed. The black hole pushed out jets of particles that bored through the dying star and exploded in space.

Scientists were lucky enough to have a number of Earth-based and orbiting sensors pick up the event and collect data that has changed our understanding of the death of a star. You may be wondering, like I was, how the heck did they know this was going to happen? What are the chances that all the instruments were gazing in that direction? Well, NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Mission detected the burst just as it ignited and relayed this information to the observatories on the ground. Pretty dang fancy! Even NuSTAR got in on the action, collecting X-ray data a day after the blast.

Check out this cool animation depicting the gamma-ray burst that precipitates the formation of a black hole. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

The telescopes at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico monitored the blast for 20 hours, detecting a peak in high energy gamma-rays. The relationship between the visible light and gamma-ray emissions in the burst was unparalleled. It led astronomers to the conclusion that visible light flashes come from the external shock  instead of the internal shock along with the high-energy gamma-rays. Numerous papers have been released since the gamma-ray burst in April. And scientists have re-evaluated  the anatomy of these cosmic bursts in light of this most recent data, increasing our understanding of the brightest explosions in the Universe.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163
Katie@apollomapping.com

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2 Responses to Out of This World – A Cosmic Explosion

  1. sanchez says:

    wow, really neat. just one question…how’d they get to the side where you can see inside the ray just in time for the explosion? it appears to be expanding horizontally and then the camera gets around to the side to look into and inside…

    • Admin says:

      That’s a good question but one that we are able to answer. My guess would be that given the multiple telescopes that observed the event, there were multiple look angles so a 3D (of-sorts) compilation could be created.

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