spires of tightly-concentrated energy shooting from the dying star. Photo: NASA
The blasts emit surges of gamma rays — the most powerful form of light — as well as X-rays, and they produce afterglows that can be observed at optical and radio energies.
Two weeks ago, says NASA, astronomers saw the longest and brightest gamma-ray burst ever detected. It was the biggest shot of energy we’ve ever seen, streaming from the universe’s most powerful class of explosions. NASA: “We have waited a long time for a gamma-ray burst this shockingly, eye-wateringly bright,” said Julie McEnery, project scientist for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
“The event, labeled GRB 130427A, was the most energetic gamma-ray burst yet seen, and also had the longest duration,” says Matthew Francis for Ars Technica. “The output from GRB 130427A was visible in gamma ray light for nearly half a day, while typical GRBs fade within a matter of minutes or hours.”
Gamma-ray bursts focus their energy in a tightly-concentrated spire of energy. A few years ago, says Wired, researchers calculated what would happen if a gamma-ray burst went off nearby, and was pointed at the Earth.
Steve Thorsett of Princeton University has calculated the consequences if such a merger were to take place within 3,500 light-years of Earth, with its energy aimed at the solar system. The blast would bathe Earth in the equivalent of 300,000 megatons of TNT, 30 times the world’s nuclear weaponry, with the gamma-ray and X-ray radiation stripping Earth of its ozone layer.
While scientists cannot yet predict with any precision which nearby stars will go supernova, the merger of neutron star binaries is as predictable as any solar eclipse. Three such binary systems have been discovered, and one, PSR B1534+12, presently sits about 3,500 light-years away and will coalesce in a billion years.
Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/05/scientists-just-recorded-the-brightest-explosion-weve-ever-seen/#ixzz2Snq8dhhM
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