Friday, March 21, 2008

Exploding Star Makes History

The bright flash of a star exploding reached Earth after jumping on the Cosmos Express Shuttle that travels at the speed of light, and arrived 7.5 billion years later. The glowing gamma ray star remains were visible for an hour to the naked eye on Wednesday night. Regular earthlings stayed up or saw it by accident. Professional NASA astronomers observed the stellar death through the Swift Telescope at Penn State. Swift is dedicated to observing gamma ray outbursts where ever they can find them within range of the known universe. A more inventive scientist was not yet on duty, because the second cherry red and orange star burst of the day received the boring official scientific moniker, GammaRayBurst 080319B.
GRB 080319B, located more than halfway across the visible universe, crushes the previous record holder for most distant object visible without assistance by three orders of magnitude. That would be the galaxy M33, located just 2.9 million light-years from Earth.

"This burst was a whopper," Swift principal investigator Neil Gehrels, of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "It blows away every gamma-ray burst we've seen so far." (Photo NASA)

Gamma rays have lethal designs upon living cells, remapping the DNA and other insidious maneuvers. Star explosions are what happens at the end of a stars life when nuclear fusion cease, sending a star into supernova mode. GRB 080319B was the result of an epic explosion signaling a massive star's demise that crossed galaxies and deep space before being viewable on Earth. That is amazing because about 1% of stars end in a gamma ray spewing explosion. The Milky Way has a supernova event average about one every fifty years. The super nova process is the main means of dispersing the heaviest elements from the periodic table throughout the surrounding areas. In other types, all that remains is black hole from which no light escapes beyond the event horizon. (artist rendering)

Four bursts in total were put in the history books from the exploding mega star so far, far away. Every time one looks at the stars in the night sky, its history as their illumination just reached Earth when seeing celestial stars.

Flash: The Hunt for the Biggest Explosions in the Universe
by Govert Schilling is going to need a serious update as the order of magnitude of this explosion dwarfs the others.

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