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.
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.