Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gamma ray burst observed from billion light years away

On 19 March the NASA Swift satellite observed a fifth magnitude gamma ray burst in the Bootes constellation. It was a remarkable discover, because the red shift of the observation suggests that the explosion originated seven billion light years away, sent at a time that the universe was only half its current age. Seven billion years ago, when this light was emitted, neither the Earth nor the Sun had been formed.

However, one of the overlooked aspects of this discovery is the swiftness (pun intended) with which the astronomical community responded to observing this gamma ray burst, which was visible with the naked eye for only about an hour before it faded. After Swift discovered the burst, it sent automated announcements to a network of world-wide telescopes, which in turn started to observe the burst. For short lived astronomical occurrences, such as gamma ray bursts or planetary microlensing, mobilizing a world wide network of telescopes means the difference between getting continuous observations versus getting eight hours broken with no observations for 16 hours.

This automated coordination gives astronomy a significant advantage in capture every possible interesting phenomenon.

1 comment:

Pablo said...

I wasn't aware that the telescopes were networked so cleverly. Good info.