Wednesday 26 March 2008

A Stellar Explosion or Gamma Ray Burst You Could See on Earth!

On March 19th of 2008, Arthur C. Clarke passed away. Earlier that day there was an event, an explosion the likes of which has probably never been witnessed in human history.

NASA’s Swift satellite. At 2:12 a.m. EDT, Swift detected an explosion from deep space that was so powerful that its afterglow was briefly visible to the naked eye. Even more astonishing, the explosion itself took place halfway across the visible universe! The explosion was so far away that it took its light 7,500,000,000 (7.5 billion) years to reach Earth! In fact, the explosion took place so long ago that Earth had not yet come into existence. No other known object or type of explosion could be seen by the naked eye at such an immense distance," says Swift science team member Stephen Holland of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "We don’t know yet if anyone was looking at the afterglow at the time it brightened to peak visibility. But if someone just happened to be looking at the right place at the right time, they saw the most distant object ever seen by human eyes without optical aid.

If you venture out to a remote location and gaze into the sky on a dark, moonless night, the farthest object you can see with your naked eye is a spiral galaxy called M33. The galaxy is far away by Earthly standards, but it is nearby on a cosmic distant scale. The light from M33 takes 2,900,000 (2.9 million) years to reach Earth, making it thousands of times closer than the March 19 explosion.

Some bloggers and scientists confer that this event ought to be called the Clarke Event

Astronomers have just begun their scientific analysis of the burst, so they do not know yet why it was so powerful, and why the afterglow was so much brighter than other afterglows. Perhaps the burst itself was more energetic than other bursts, or perhaps its jets were very narrow, and were aimed directly at Earth.Swift normally detects about two gamma ray bursts per week. But March 19 was a special day. The satellite detected four bursts on that day, which is a Swift record for one day. “Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke the day before seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma ray bursts,” says Swift science team member Judith Racusin of Penn State University in University Park, Pa.

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