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Record-Breaking X-Ray Blast Blinds Space Observatory Briefly

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posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 05:41 PM
Record-Breaking X-Ray Blast Blinds Space Observatory Briefly
By Clara Moskowitz Senior Writer
posted: 14 July 2010
05:16 pm ET

A violent cosmic explosion has unleashed the brightest blast of X-rays ever detected from distant space, a signal so bright it temporary blinded the NASA space telescope assigned to spot it.

The powerful explosion, called a gamma-ray burst, was detected by NASA's Swift observatory, scientists announced Wednesday. Gamma-ray bursts are narrow beams of intense radiation shot out when stars explode in supernovas. In addition to gamma-ray light, they also produce X-rays and other forms of radiation, including visible light.

This recent event, dubbed GRB 100621A, was particularly powerful.

Ads by GoogleMeade Telescope for SalePremier Meade Telescope Dealer Fast Shipping. Helpful Service.
www.astronomics.comTelescope Sale: Ends 7/30Free Shipping on Select Telescopes & Up To 20% Off Accessories!"This gamma-ray burst is by far the brightest light source ever seen in X-ray wavelengths at cosmological distances," said Penn State University astronomer David Burrows, lead scientist for Swift's X-ray Telescope. [Swift's gamma-ray burst photo]

Unprecedented brightness

The onslaught of light in X-ray wavelengths, which are shorter than visible light wavelengths, quickly overwhelmed the detector when it impacted June 21.

"The burst was so bright when it first erupted that our data-analysis software shut down," said Phil Evans, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom who wrote parts of Swift's X-ray-analysis software. "So many photons were bombarding the detector each second that it just couldn't count them quickly enough. It was like trying to use a rain gauge and a bucket to measure the flow rate of a tsunami."

Light from this explosion traveled through space for 5 billion years before slamming into Swift, overwhelming its X-ray camera. The observatory, launched in November 2004, was designed specifically to hunt for gamma-ray bursts, though scientists didn't count on a blast quite so strong.

"The intensity of these X-rays was unexpected and unprecedented," said Neil Gehrels, Swift's principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

GRB 100621A was the brightest blast of X-ray light since Swift's X-ray telescope began observing in 2005.

"Just when we were beginning to think that we had seen everything that gamma-ray bursts could throw at us, this burst came along to challenge our assumptions about how powerful their X-ray emissions can be," Gehrels said.

One for the record books

After the shutdown, Swift quickly got back online, and scientists were able to recover the data the observatory acquired during the onslaught. The observations allowed astronomers to learn more about these mysterious explosions, including just how bright they can be.

Swift's measurements showed that the burst emitted 143,000 X-ray photons per second during its short period of greatest brightness. That's more than 140 times brighter than the brightest continuous X-ray source in the sky – a neutron star that releases a steady 10,000 X-ray photons per second.

"When I first saw the strange data from this burst, I knew that I had discovered something extraordinary," Evans said. "It was an indescribable feeling when I realized, at that moment, that I was the only person in the whole universe who knew that this extraordinary event had occurred. Now, after our analysis of the data, we know that this burst is one for the record books."

Gamma-ray bursts focus most of their energy in the short-wavelength, high-frequency range of X-rays and gamma-rays. In fact, they don't stand out at all in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths, emitting only a middling amount of light compared to other objects in the sky.

When a very massive star runs out of fuel and reaches the end of its life, it will collapse into an extremely dense black hole. This event releases an explosion of energy, including some that gets channeled into beams of gamma-ray and X-ray light.

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 06:02 PM
The birth of a black hole.
A very good thing it was not in our neighborhood.

Here's the link to the story.

[edit on 7/14/2010 by Phage]

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 06:28 PM
reply to post by Phage

Thanks for the link.

Since they were trying to "measure a tsunami with a bucket" I'm surprised they were able to recover all the data.

In some perspectives the speed of light seems fast, like compared to the fastest spacecraft we've ever built it's many times faster.

But when we just found out about something that happened 5 billion years ago, light somehow doesn't seem as fast. I guess it is but that just means its really far away, so yeah that's a good safe distance for something like this to happen.

Wouldn't this thread be better suited to "space exploration" than "fragile earth?"

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 06:59 PM
reply to post by Arbitrageur

There could be an Earthly connection. GRBs actually do seem to have an effect. It will be interesting to see if any correlated effects of this recent one turn up.

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 07:46 PM

Originally posted by Phage

As that source says,

The blast originated about 50,000 light-years away ..."Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction," said Bryan Gaensler

I could see where a mass extinction would be a fragile Earth topic (Discussion of climate change, pollution, and environment issues), if we were still here to talk about it

I guess we'll have to see what effect the black hole forming 5 billion light years away has on the ionosphere, but if I read the other sources correctly, the main symptom of the ionosphere disruption was something like radio interference? Or something that someone without a radio receiver might not notice? So it still seems like a stretch to call if fragile Earth even in those cases, though I see your point.

But as you said earlier, let's thank our lucky stars these gamma ray bursts aren't happening closer to us, then it would be a fragile Earth issue!

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 07:53 PM
reply to post by Phage
so we would never have anything to be concerned about then
I'd heard that if strong enough it could strip away the atmosphere

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 07:59 PM
I love reading this kind of stuff, truly makes you realize how fragile and vulnerable our little planet is in the cosmos.

We are powerless in the grand scheme of things.

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 08:05 PM
reply to post by Lil Drummerboy

Well, if the source of the GRB were near enough and if it were aimed at us (they are quite directional), yes it could be very bad. But then, so would a large asteroid or comet impact. Low propability of it happening any time soon and definitely in the "no point in worrying about it" category.

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 08:31 PM
Hasn't anybody else noticed the little math error here?

It is quoted as being 50,000 light years away, yet it also says the light took 5 billion years to get here. That would mean it was 5 billion light years away.

I think the reporter made a big boo boo here.

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 08:34 PM
reply to post by zlastonetoknow

I don't see a reference to 50,000 light years in the article of the OP. The GRB that originated 50,000 light years away was a different one, in 2004.

[edit on 7/14/2010 by Phage]

posted on Jul, 14 2010 @ 08:42 PM
I thought you were quoting an article about the same event. My bad for not reading the entire article you were quoting. I stand corrected.

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