Swift's Ultaviolet and optical telescope captured a far away gamma ray burst.  Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler

Gamma Ray Burst From the Edge of the Universe

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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NASA’s Swift satellite captured the most distant gamma-ray burst ever detected. The blast came from an exploding star 12.8 billion light-years away, near the edge of the visible universe. Swift saw the explosion on September 13 at 1:47 am EDT. But because light moves at finite speed, and looking farther into the universe means looking back in time, this means the burst occurred less than 825 million years after the universe began, or when the universe was less than one-seventh its present age. This star was probably from the earliest generations of stars ever formed. “This is the most amazing burst Swift has seen,” said the mission’s lead scientist Neil Gehrels at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Gamma rays from the far-off explosion triggered Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope, and the spacecraft established the event’s location in the constellation Eridanus. It quickly turned to examine the spot, and less than two minutes after the alert, Swift’s X-Ray Telescope began observing the position. There, it found a fading, previously unknown X-ray source. The burst has been designated as GRB 080913.

Astronomers on the ground were alerted as well and a group using ESO’s 2.2 meter telescope at the LaSilla Observatory were able to make observations one minute after Swift started observing. An hour and a half later, the Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile, targeted the afterglow.

Astronomers look for the redshift of these objects to determine distance. The light that is emitted from an object is shifted towards the red, or less energetic end, of the electromagnetic spectrum, due to the Doppler Effect. In certain colors, the brightness of a distant object shows a characteristic drop caused by intervening gas clouds. The farther away the object is, the longer the wavelength where this fade-out begins.

Analysis of the spectrum for GRB 080913 established the blast’s redshift at 6.7 — among the most distant objects known.

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions. Most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, gas jets — driven by processes not fully understood — punch through the star and blast into space. There, they strike gas previously shed by the star and heat it, which generates bright afterglows.

Source: NASA


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VitaminT
Member
VitaminT
September 20, 2008 8:40 AM

“. . . . this means the burst occurred less than 825 million years after the universe began, or when the universe was less than one-seventh its present age.”

Hate to be a nitpicker but when I do the math I get a considerably smaller percentage of the total age of the universe:

13.7 Byr / .825 Byr = 16.6

What am I missing?

All that aside a very interesting event. I’m curious about how much time we might generally expect such a stars evolution to require.

Also, applying the inverse-square law with a radius of 12.8 Billion light years!!! Well our language really has no words.

Joseph
Member
Joseph
September 20, 2008 10:57 AM

Well, if they can detect a GRB that far away in the universe but can’t even detect supposed Nibiru in our own galaxy, tell me what the hell is blocking “Nibiru” from sight.

Nancy Atkinson
Guest
Nancy Atkinson
September 20, 2008 11:02 AM

Joe M. —
You can’t see something that’s not there.

Mike
Guest
Mike
September 20, 2008 11:13 AM

That’s god after a bad meal.

VitaminT
Member
VitaminT
September 20, 2008 11:19 AM

What’s a Nibiru?

garrafa
Member
garrafa
September 20, 2008 11:30 AM

According to wikipedia: Nibiru is a pseudoscientific planetary object, described by Zecharia Sitchin.

VitaminT
Member
VitaminT
September 20, 2008 11:43 AM

Approximate observed intensity of the GRB at the stated distance – not accounting for any interim effects:
1/163,840,000,000,000,000,000. of original source intensity.

I’m glad I wasn’t in the neighborhood when that firecracker went off! Hurricane Ike was bad enough for me.

Trippy
Member
Trippy
September 20, 2008 3:52 PM

And I have scientific proof that the god Murphy created the universe last thursday when he sneezed and missed his handkercheif.

He and the flying spaghetti monster (all hail his noodly appendages) tried to correct the problems they saw coming, but it was too late.

Don Alexander
Member
Don Alexander
September 20, 2008 6:25 PM

Fraser, I ToSeek’ed you (and the BA) on the day of the GRB. wink

Check into BAUTforum.com every once in a while. grin

Okay, of course, you are basing this on an official press release.

At least you, in contrast to the BA, mentioned the observations by “ESO’s 2.2m telescope at [La Silla] observatory”. It was this telescope that – as the press release correctly states – which first discovered the afterglow and established its extreme redshift photometrically. That triggered the VLT observing program.

Chuck Lam
Guest
Chuck Lam
September 21, 2008 5:35 AM

“Gamma ray burst from the edge of the universe.” Can’t help wonder if the edge of the observable universe is simply the ‘expansion’ (we think exists) reaching the finite speed limit of light. Maybe there is nothing more than the same of all we can see in any direction beyond this maximum redshift. Maybe the ‘big bang’ is a local prebang energy morph into matter with a 13 billion something light year radus. Maybe we are looking at the origin of the universe all wrong.

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
September 21, 2008 6:54 AM

…trying to wrap my brain around the numbers is giving me an ice cream headache.

Can’t think of any coherent comment except to wonder at the odds of a star from the other side of the universe going off way back then and the light only reaching here now. Right on target for our world.

Its almost a worthy plot device for a sci-fi novel.

genesis continuous
Guest
genesis continuous
September 21, 2008 2:24 PM

Getting one’s head around the maths might be why the god Murphy missed his handkerchief. But that’s not all.

If the universe is expanding at an incredible rate then ‘missing the handkercief makes sense, because what we see just isn’t there now, is it? Won’t the youngest galaxies in the universe be billions and billions of light years further away by now? And will that burst be visible from 12.8 billion light years away beyond where it was. Light shines globally, one would think. Oh my goodness, conservation within our limited cosmic containment has just ‘gone out the back door’ !

David

stargeezer
Member
stargeezer
September 21, 2008 12:31 PM

So all these GRb’s and where is GLAST/Fermi? I thought G/F could spot GRB’s tout de suite and do some serious pix/analysis/science.

VitaminT
Member
VitaminT
September 21, 2008 4:53 PM

@Maxwell

“Its almost a worthy plot device for a sci-fi novel.”

I recently read a Sci Fi Novel called Blue Light by Walter Mosley a very interesting read about a strange light that fell on the Earth and affected people in remarkable ways. It’s a fantasy really and very well written. I’d recommend it to everyone.

VitaminT
Member
VitaminT
September 21, 2008 5:14 PM

Forgive the extra post but I found a good discription of the novel I wanted to share.

Blue Light (1998)

“. . . . Blue Light, is Walter Moseley’s first scifi novel and the prelude to a trilogy. From an unknown point in the universe, an inscrutable blue light approaches our solar system. When it reaches Earth, it transforms those it strikes, causing them to evolve beyond the present state of humanity. Each person imbued with the light becomes the full realization of his or her nature and potential, with strengths, understanding, and communication abilities far beyond our imagining.”

RetardedFishFrog
Guest
RetardedFishFrog
September 21, 2008 7:21 PM
I wonder what it would be like to see a GRB caused by the formation of a super massive black hole. The GRB would be about 13.2+ billion years old to coincide with galaxy formation in the early universe. On the other hand, if we see only one or so regular GRB’s per day out of the billions of stars of billions of galaxies, then I guess we would witness the GRB from a SMBH formation less than once every billion days, or less than once in 2,740,000 years. That would be one hell of a blast. I realize that measuring the afterglow from a GRB is easier to do because of reaction time following detection and is… Read more »
Bravehart
Member
Bravehart
September 21, 2008 7:28 PM

Just wonder what that diamond figured object
is at the bottom of the picture?
Looks odd?

AstroAl
Member
AstroAl
September 22, 2008 5:13 AM

If gamma rays from the Big Bang (13.5 billion light years) have red-shifted to microwaves (CMB), how come we can see gamma rays from 12.8 billion light years away? Shouldn’t these be red-shifted to microwaves?

DrNecropolis
Member
DrNecropolis
September 22, 2008 12:48 PM

This will probably sound ridiculous but…
You could argue that if space-time is curved and you were at the exact center of the universe at creation, then looking to either side you could see yourself at your current position. So from a certain perspective you could say that given a certain location and time it could appear as though there were 2 simultaneous creation events. Though that’s basically just a perspective issue and not really possible at all. “What if” thought experiments are fun!

John in Missouri
Guest
John in Missouri
September 22, 2008 6:23 AM
Okay, this is a perfect illustration of a question I have asked time and again, and even Fraser and Pamela have not answered it to my satisfaction. This event occurred 825 million years after the Big Bang (or whatever). Assuming that we all came from a grain of superdense whatever that exploded outward at the beginning of time, and making an assumption for argument’s sake that the first 825 million years that all matter flew apart at the speed of light (remember this is for argument’s sake), then the furthest away that this thing could have happened was (assuming diametric opposition) was 1billion 650 million from earth (which probably didn’t exist at that time–heck, our SUN probably didn’t… Read more »
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