Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Brightest explosion witnessed by humans

An extraordinarily powerful burst in space is officially the brightest explosion ever witnessed by human eyes.

Spotted earlier this year in the constellation Leo, the explosion was actually a gamma ray burst noticed by several astronomical satellites including NASA's Swift observatory.  

Gamma Ray Bursts or GRBs are the death throes of supermassive stars.  Such a star collapses inward on itself and forms a black hole.  This ejects a glowing shell of stellar debris that expands at nearly the speed of light.  By analyzing the properties of the light and gamma rays produced by the burst, astronomers have determined that the dead star was approximately three to four times larger than the Sun.  However, it was twenty to thirty times more massive.  Also in terms of findings, this GRB is defying previous models and theories in terms of energy levels.  As a result astrophysicists may have to reconsider how particles are accelerated.

This particular GRB was quite distant, being in a galaxy about 3.6 billion light years from Earth.  I am forced to wonder what would happen to us if this should occur with a star that is in our own astronomical neighborhood.  I'm guessing that we wouldn't have much time in terms of warning and what could we do about it even if we did?

There have been several theories tossed about that Earth was once hit by such a Gamma Ray Burst millions of years ago.  This, according to the theory, resulted in the depletion of half the ozone layer and the rising of a brown, wroth smog of nitrogen dioxide.  As the theory goes, this brought about a massive die-off in invertebrate life in oceans and lakes, all of this being pre-dinosaurs of course.  Like I said, what could we do about it?

Happy holidays!

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