Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brightest Stellar Explosion Heralds New Type Of Long-distance Astronomy

Date:
September 15, 2008
Source:
University of California - Berkeley
Summary:
Some 7.5 billion years ago, a supernova heralding the birth of a black hole went off halfway across the universe, sending a pencil-beam flash of light toward Earth that was briefly visible to the naked eye on March 19. UC Berkeley's Joshua Bloom and colleagues, who analyzed data from PAIRITEL and Gemini South to characterize the gamma-ray burst, see such bursts as a way to probe the early universe.

In the seconds after it first pointed at GRB 080319B, the infrared telescope PAIRITEL was blinded by the brilliant explosion (a). As the gamma-ray burst began to fade, PAIRITEL was able to track the light from the explosion for many hours (b and c).
Credit: Joshua Bloom/UC Berkeley

A flash of light that blinded even small telescopes six months ago was the brightest astronomical explosion ever observed - visible to the naked eye despite originating halfway across the universe.

The gamma-ray burst, catalogued as GRB 080319B, was the result of a massive star's explosion 7.5 billion years ago that sent a pencil-beam of intense light on a direct collision course for Earth. It is the only known gamma-ray burst to have had a visible component bright enough to see with the naked eye.

"This was the brightest optical and infrared event that mankind has ever recorded," said Joshua Bloom, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and first author of an analysis of the event submitted to The Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) less than a week after the burst and accepted this week. "When more of these events are detected, we will open up the possibility of studying the infant universe with this new tool."

The gamma-ray burst was first detected by NASA's Swift satellite on March 19, after which many Earth- and space-based telescopes slewed into position to observe the rapidly fading light. Situated within the constellation Bootes, its flash eventually was pinpointed at a distance of about 7.5 billion light years.

Bloom's group, using a robotic telescope in Arizona, began observing the intense infrared light just 54 seconds after the event began. The telescope, called the Peters Automated Infrared Imaging Telescope (PAIRITEL), was operating autonomously on a direct link from the Swift satellite. Bloom's graduate students Daniel Perley and Adam A. Miller analyzed the data.

"This was the most powerful event ever seen in human existence," enthused Bloom's coauthor Alex Filippenko, UC Berkeley professor of astronomy. "A star that blew up and could be seen - barely - with the naked eye on a dark, moonless night, even though seven and a half billion light years away, is just astonishing."

Filippenko calculated that if the supernova were located about 6,000 light years from Earth, the gamma-ray burst would have appeared as bright as the sun. Perley noted, too, that the burst at its peak was about 200 million times brighter than the entire galaxy in which it occurred.

Filippenko said that it is unlikely that anyone actually saw the flash, because it lasted only a few tens of seconds and appeared on a night with a bright moon. Astronomers know it reached a magnitude of 5.6, close to the limits of human vision, because a Polish observing program known as Pi of the Sky took several photos of the gamma-ray burst's afterglow at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

The Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT) at Lick Observatory also followed the fading afterglow of the burst, as did the Gemini South telescope in Chile. Bloom and his colleagues combined these observations with Swift data and Pi of the Sky images to complete their analysis.

The assimilation of new information about the event was particularly noteworthy. Less than six days after the event, Bloom's group submitted a 42-page paper written during a planned mountain retreat. Miller, then new to the fast-paced gamma-ray burst field said, "It was quite an introduction to research - my heart was racing for a week. I'm glad we decided to write instead of ski!"

Another paper, submitted weeks after Bloom's paper and largely confirming those results, appears in the Sept. 11 issue of Nature and is authored by graduate student Judith Racusin of Pennsylvania State University and her colleagues.

Authors of the ApJ paper also included Weidong Li, Nathaniel R. Butler, D. Kocevski, Ryan J. Foley, R. Chornock, D. L. Starr, B. Macomber and D. Poznanski of UC Berkeley; D. A. Kann and S. Klose of the Thuringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg in Germany; H.-W. Chen of the University of Chicago; J. X. Prochaska of the University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory, based at UC Santa Cruz; M. F. Skrutskie of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville; S. Lopez of the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile; P. Hall of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; K. Glazebrook of the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn, Australia; and C. H. Blake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Berkeley. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Berkeley. "Brightest Stellar Explosion Heralds New Type Of Long-distance Astronomy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080910141829.htm>.
University of California - Berkeley. (2008, September 15). Brightest Stellar Explosion Heralds New Type Of Long-distance Astronomy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080910141829.htm
University of California - Berkeley. "Brightest Stellar Explosion Heralds New Type Of Long-distance Astronomy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080910141829.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) The Chasqui I, hand-delivered into orbit by a Russian cosmonaut, is one of hundreds of small satellites set to go up in the next few years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, August 15, 2014

This Week @ NASA, August 15, 2014

NASA (Aug. 15, 2014) Carbon Observatory’s First Data, ATV-5 Delivers Cargo, Cygnus Departs Station and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins