Thursday, March 20, 2008

Naked eye visible gamma ray burster

Usually the timescale of events in the universe is measured in billions of years. However, sometimes that isn't the case. When astronomic events happen over shorter timescales, they tend to involve fireworks. In fact, sometimes they're so impressive that we can not only detect them with the most advanced telescopes as the light reaches us from the other side of the observable universe, but we can see it with the naked eye. This is what happened last night, or would have happened if you'd been looking at just the right area of the sky.

(From pi of the sky, who have the best steam-punk set up for a telescopic system I've ever seen.)
A gamma ray burster, some 7.5 billion light years away exploded in spectacular fashion, and in a few seconds, released more energy than our sun will release in its entire lifetime of several billion years. Considering the energy that the sun gives off every second (billions of times the energy of the largest nuclear bomb ever created) this is enough energy to power a whole lot of lightbulbs. This sort of power outshines entire galaxies, consisting of hundreds of billions of stars and if one ever goes off in our neighbourhood, we're in some pretty serious trouble!

In the words of the Bad Astronomer:

It’s difficult to put this into the proper context. GRBs are monumental explosions, the exploding of a massive star where most of the energy of the catastrophe is channeled into twin beams of energy. These beams scream out from the explosion like cosmic blowtorches, and for thousands of light years anything they touch is destroyed. Happily for us, GRBs always appear hundreds of millions or billions of light years away.

No comments: