Perhaps no other area of astronomy has experienced such an explosive revolution in our understanding over the past year as that of gamma-ray bursts. These powerful explosions in space that are detected on a daily basis have been shown conclusively within the past 12 months to come from the most distant reaches of the Universe. Each one releases more energy in 10 seconds than our Sun will emit in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime. On January 7, 1998, Dr. Chryssa Kouveliotou, a USRA scientist at NASA/Marshall, and Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, will present an invited lecture to the 191st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC, to summarize what has been an unparalleled year of discovery in the area of cosmic gamma-ray bursts.
Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) were discovered by accident 30 years ago from data taken by the Vela satellite series. Since then, GRB detectors on US and international spacecraft have amassed a wealth of information on this enigmatic phenomenon. Currently, the Burst And Transient Source Experiment (BATSE), designed, built, and operated by scientists at NASA/Marshall, is the most sensitive GRB experiment. Launched on April 5, 1991, aboard NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), BATSE has detected over 2,000 cosmic bursts, more than all other experiments combined.
In early 1996, an Italian-Dutch satellite, BeppoSAX, which is equipped with X-ray Cameras that have a wide field of view, obtained images of an X-ray glow immediately following a GRB. This detection opened a new era in GRB research. These images taken shortly after the burst occurred provided a very precise location in the sky which enabled optical, X-ray and radio telescopes to quickly follow up the emission region and detect the first GRB counterparts in these other wavelengths. Since then, two additional optical counterparts have been found for gamma-ray bursts, the most recent discovery coming only in the third week of December 1997.
During the invited lecture, Dr. Kouveliotou will review the main observational results of the last 7 years obtained with BATSE on the temporal, spectral, and spatial characteristics of GRBs, together with the recent optical, X-ray and radio follow-up results that have made crucial steps towards the solution of the GRB mystery.
The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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