Astronomers were calling it “the monster” after they saw it explode. It was the most enormous and brightest cosmic blast that had ever been witnessed. If it had been nearer to the Earth, this planet could have went up in flames with it.
Revolving telescopes got to view the fireworks show of a lifetime this past spring when they spotted a gamma ray burst in a galaxy that was far away in the universe.
So far, the only larger display that astronomers know of that has happened is the Big Bang, and no one was around to see that occur.
NASA astrophysics chief scientist Paul Hertz stated that the gamma ray explosion was an once-in-a-lifetime comic event. However, since this burst was almost 3.8 billion light-years away, all human beings were spared. In fact, there was no one on Earth that could have even seen it with the naked eye.
A gamma ray burst occurs when a colossal size star dies, collapses inside a newly created black hole, explodes into what is known as a supernova and ejects active radiation. This energy was as bright as anything that existed as it moved across the universe going at the speed of light.
Scientists would possibly be able to detect the early warning signs of looming gamma ray bursts. However, if such a blast was on the way to Earth, there would be nothing that could be done to stop it. Thankfully the chances of such an occurrences happening are basically zero.
The telescopes NASA have in orbit have seen bursts for over 20 years, spotting one every few days. But the one seen on April 27 of this year, ended up setting records, explained a study which was printed in the journal Science this week.
The gamma burst caused NASA devices to measure five times the energy of what had been its nearest opponent. That was a blast which happened in 1999.
This blast began with a star which had over 25 to 30 times the mass of the Earth’s sun but was only a few times wider, so it was extremely thick. It shattered in a very powerful way.
Usually, gamma ray bursts are the biggest explosions which occur in the universe, and this one ended up being so huge that several NASA instruments actually hit their peaks. It was much stronger and lasted a lot longer than any blast that had ever happened previously.
Astronomers all over the world named this blast the monster. In fact, one of the actual studies written over the burst specifically used the words “the monster” in its title. Such language is rare to be used in a scientific paper.
One of the central reasons the blast ended up being so bright was that compared to thousands of other gamma ray bursts that astronomers have seen, the monster was actually close by intergalactic standards.
The majority of blasts that NASA telescopes pick up are usually about twice the distance away. Other eruptions might have been this big, but they are so much farther from Earth that they do not appear as bright when the light reaches here.
Astronomers believe it is very unlikely that such a gamma blast would go off in the Earth’s galaxy and that the odds are at less than 1 in 10 million.
That is because the Solar System here does not have very many stars of this type which are needed to cause such gamma ray bursts, explained Charles Dermer, one of the authors of the gamma ray burst studies and an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
The chance of such a blast happening is basically nil, Dermer added; such a burst must be pointing right at a planet to be dangerous.
Some scientists believe a mass extinction happened on Earth around 450 million years ago because of a gamma ray burst in a close-by part of our galaxy but Dermer does not think so. He goes back to the belief that this galaxy is just not made that way. It does not have the stars needed for such gamma bursts to occur.
The monster itself was so bright that telescopes on Earth were able to catch a short-term flash in the Leo constellation, so for astronomers that was an amazing moment.
Even though it was so huge, the burst was basically just a part of the birth, life and death cycle that also exists in the universe. All things are created out of the materials which erupted from gamma blasts such as the monster.
By Kimberly Ruble
The Washington Post
The San Francisco Gate