Gamma Burst!

Did you see it?

The brightest explosion ever seen was observed in March this year, reports. Now a team of astronomers from around the world have combined their data from satellites and observatories to explain what happened.

What they saw — and indeed, it was visible to the naked human eye — was a Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB) aimed directly at our solar system.

A Gamma Ray Burst is not to be confused with Gamera:


GRBs are bright — but they are easy to miss.  NASA explains:

Like galactic fireworks in the night, gamma-ray bursts briefly light up the stellar sky as only the most powerful explosions in the universe can. Yet as magnificent as gamma-ray bursts are, their fleeting nature makes them elusive and difficult to study….

Gamma-ray bursts are incredibly intense releases of gamma radiation. Found at the highest frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum, gamma radiation is a particularly energetic form of light that can only be generated by the most powerful astronomical events. Scientists suspect that these sporadic explosions may signal the birth of black holes or the death of stars.

The first gamma-ray bursts were detected in 1967 by the U.S. military’s Vela satellites. This fleet of satellites was originally designed to monitor nuclear weapons testing and could sense large releases of gamma radiation. While orbiting the Earth, a Vela satellite recorded a burst of concentrated gamma energy from deep space. For the first time, a gamma-ray burst was observed by humans.

So how was the GRB captured back in March? A bit of luck, combined with teamwork:

GRBs are the Universe’s most luminous explosions. Early in the morning of March 19, the Swift satellite, a joint NASA/UK/Italian mission, pinpointed an extremely bright GRB and immediately sent out an alert to observatories around the world. Two robotic wide-field optical cameras in Chile also observed the brief flash: "Pi of the Sky," which is operated by the Centre for Theoretical Physics in Warsaw, Poland, and TORTORA, based at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. TORTORA is operated by a Russian-Italian collaboration. Within minutes many more telescopes were observing, allowing for the most detailed study of a bright GRB ever undertaken using data from gamma-ray to radio wavelengths. 

Want to see it yourself? The Penn State website has some cool videos and images that you can check out; also be sure to watch this clip from Google video: