06 October 2005

I think it's cool

One of the most puzzling emissions scientists observe in our universe has been Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs). They are short duration, extremely high intensity discrete periods of gamma radiation. They are the most energetic emissions ever detected, “equivalent to that which would be produced by converting the entire mass of a star 1.3 times the mass of our Sun completely into gamma radiation.” Their source has been disputed since they were first discovered. Until now, apparently.

Some history: GRBs have been observed since the 1960’s. In 1991, NASA launched the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and one of its multiple missions was to collect data about these phenomena. It successfully determined that GRBs were not simply coming from our galaxy, but from all points in the sky. So, these GRBs were potentially traveling from other galaxies far distant, and still imparting massive amounts of energy. There were many guesses about what could produce such enormous amounts of energy, from extremely large supernovas to black hole activity. As it turns out, it is a mix of these two hypothesis. Longer duration (> 2 sec) GRBs were shown to emanate from hypernovas. And today, NASA announced that it had determined that the still-mysterious shorter duration GRBs have been shown to be produced by a neutron star being sucked into a black hole, or a neutron star colliding with another neutron star – both phenomena produce short duration GRBs. The fact that they were even able to observe in some fashion these events just gets me all atwitter. Very cool.

Oh, and add extra geek points if you hummed a Muppets tune every time I said ‘phenomena


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