See that Record Breaking Gamma Ray Burst Go! (Video)

No sooner had NASA’s Swift X-Ray Telescope caught the record-breaking Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) in the act on Wednesday (March 19th), the worlds telescopes swung toward the constellation of Boötes to watch the afterglow of this massive explosion. One instrument in a Chile observatory was observing in Swift’s field of view at the time of the blast and has put together a short frame-by-frame video of the event. So if you missed this historic burst from 7.5 billion years ago (which you probably did!) you can watch it now…

Las Campanas Observatory is located high in the Chilean mountains and was used to observe the afterglow of the massive GRB observed at 2:12 am (EDT) last Wednesday. The Polish instrument called “Pi of the Sky”, a GRB detector array of cameras looking out for optical flashes (or transients) in the night sky. This ground-based instrument was lucky. Taking continuous shots in its wide field of view, the instrument’s automatic flash recognition algorithm detected the explosion two seconds before Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope (BAT). The Polish research group has released the chain of events in the form of an animation with frames 10 seconds apart (shown below). The blast decayed from the brightness of a 5 magnitude star to 11th magnitude over four minutes, allowing it to be seen by the naked eye when it was at its brightest.

One of the most significant results to come out of this multi-instrument observation of this event is that with 10 seconds of precision, the optical emission and gamma-ray emission from a GRB are simultaneous.

The “Pie in the Sky” project is unique in that it surveys the sky on the lookout for GRBs without depending on satellites. It does however use satellite indicators of GRB flashes to confirm its observations. By observing such a wide field of view, taking continuous 10s-interval shots of the sky, the instrument can observe the GRB in the very early stages of the blast.

GRBs are of massive interest to scientists. Generally, GRBs lasting for longer than two seconds are attributed to massive stars collapsing and forming black holes. Therefore observing the first two minutes of the blast and afterglow provides valuable information about black hole formation.

Source: Pie of the Sky

23 Replies to “See that Record Breaking Gamma Ray Burst Go! (Video)”

  1. Great result! Can’t wait for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope to come online – these sort of serendipitous observations should then become much more commonplace…

    No matter how many times I run through it in my head, it still blows me away that an event half way across the visible universe can appear as bright as a 5th mag. star, however briefly that may be.

  2. I think we could call this an Ultranova? Or Hypernova? Super is not enough, not for a 5th mag outburst at 7.5 ly!

  3. If there is other intelligent life out there, then this blast caught the attention of the entire universe…

  4. Alex, that’s a really neat idea about this explosion being seen by intelligent species across the entire universe! Didn’t think of it that way.

    I wonder though…how large a volume of space would this explosion have sterilized? eeek! 😐

  5. 10 seconds time resolution?? How boring!!

    The TORTOREM video camera attached to the REM robotic telescope in Chile caught the GRB with a time resolution of 0.13 Seconds!!!!

    Check out the videos here:

    Full time resolution:

    10 Frame binning:

    The weird movement at ~ 30 seconds is the REM telescope slewing to the GRB, after that, it’s in the middle of the FOV.

    By the way, in the Pi of the Sky movie, the first frames, where theafterglow is at naked-eye visibility, are not even included in this video!!! Same as TORTOREM, PotS was bserving GRB 080319A, and the flash was in the left upper quadrant.

    Don Alexander

  6. This kind of reminds me of total perspective vortex in the hitch hikers guide to galaxy by DNA. It shows you in relation to the entire universe and you then go on to loose your mind because of the shock.

  7. Joe Postma, I think I have something of an answer for you, and I’ll show you how I got it.

    From my Astronomy text, I can figure the absolute magnitude of an object if I know its distance and apparent magnitude. The equation is this:

    m = M + 5 log(d/10)

    where m is apparent magnitude, M is absolute magnitude (its magnitude at 10 pc) and d is distance in parsecs.

    If the object is 7.5 billion light years away, that is 2.3 billion parsecs, or 2.3×10^9.

    This give an M value (absolute magnitude) of -36.8

    The apparent magnitude of the Sun as seen from Earth is -26.5 or thereabouts.

    If I take the same equation, solving for d to find out how far this object would appear in the sky as bright as the sun, I get an equation of

    d = { [ (m – M) / 5 ] ^10 } x 10

    d = 13761.7 pc,


    44,863.15 Light Years.

    That is the distance that the object appears as bright in the sky as the sun on a warm summer day.

    Given that any habitable planet will already have a sun in the sky, this event would be catastrophic for any system at that distance or closer, and probably even half again as far. A four minute burst at that distance could be enought ot boil half the oceans and kill everyone outside at the time.

    So lets see… volume of a sphere is 4/3 x pi x r^3
    That comes out to 3.782318 x 10^14 cubic light years of space.

    Or for better visualization, a sphere with a diameter of 89726.3 Light years…

    The Milky Way’s disk is thought to extend about 40 kpc in diameter.thats 40,000 pc, or 130,400 light years. Thats about 34% of the disk of the galaxy.

    Interstellar dust extinguishes light by about one magnitude for every thousand parsecs… so if there was a planet on one edge of the galaxy and this object was on the other edge, the GRB would appear to be a 3.2 magnitude, shining right through its galaxy to the other side with a brightness in an alien sky equivalent to the faintest stars visible in an urban neighborhood with naked eye.

    In all likelihood, the grb would be in the center of its host galaxy. This means it would

    The distance from Earth to the center of our galaxy is 8 kpc, 8000 pc, 26,080 light years. If it happened in the center of our galaxy, it would shine in our sky with an apparent magnitude of -9.52, roughly an eighth of the brightness of the full moon.

    The galaxy would be completely dead in the central third, and there would be damage control issues all over its host galaxy. Likely life would have to start over for millions of worlds, if it was even possible after such an extreme event.

  8. I forgot to take into account the massive amount of ionization of the gas in the center third of the galaxy, a blast that powerful would strip the electrons off all the atomic and molecular hydrogen out to a point in a serious hurry, although I don’t know enough about that to give a good response. However, this would in all likelihood lead to a massive burst of star formation in the host galaxy as the shockwave passing through the ionized area compresses the material in the arms.

  9. Hey, The Scott,

    sorry to burst your bubble of destruction a bit, but the effects of a GRB on it’s host galaxy are not very large. First of all, GRBs are strongly collimated. They are invisible form the side (you only see the following supernove), and the most powerful blast effects only hit 2 x a few square degrees of sky.

    Also, strong ionization takes place only within a few dozen parsec of the GRB.

    If such an event occured in the core of our galaxy, we would not see it, because there’s dozens of magnitudes of extinction by dust. But the gamma blast would fry all electronics on Earth, at the very least…

  10. Cool Scott, thanks for the play by play. How often to GRB’s happen in our galaxy???

  11. Yes , if there is intelligent life out there then they would have noticed this. Unfortunately, those closer to the blast saw it long ago and those further fron the blast have yet to see it, so it is not something that we would all be able to have a conversation about at this time.

  12. If the GRB is located roughly along the axis of the milky way, you can still ponder all intelligent life in this galaxy noticing this event at roughly the same point in time.

    No reason to ruin a moment of contemplation! 🙂

  13. GRB080319b is still moving… GRB080319b will keep on traveling, bursting on arrival, as it races to catch up with the spinning galaxies receding in the rapidly expanding universe.
    What are GRB’s?
    They say GRB’s are random, I can prove mathematically why they are not, and show how they are all connected. What are GRB’s?
    One possibility, communication.
    The on going sequencing of GRB’s manifests the medium and the method for a transgallactic paneonic message sent from an advanced civilization of highly evolved beings that lived a long, long time ago.

  14. Hey Don,

    Aww, man, you ruined it. Yes, the GRB is stronger along the polar axis… however, something able to be seen with the naked eye from half the universe away is going to go right through whatever dust may be obscuring it, and there’s no way to tell at what inclination the GRB is to the host galaxy… conservative sense tells me to assume that its along the axis of the host galaxy, but that isn’t necessarily true, is it.

    No it won’t ionize the whole nucleus of the host galaxy, but! a few dozen parsecs is a cubic crapton of gas… and all that gas in the assumed accretion disk of the core will be blasted back.

    Peter Knapp,

    It is safe to assume that GRB’s of this type (if one could even say this is a ‘type’ of GRB) don’t happen anywhere anymore… they are bygones of an ancient era of time when supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies were still eating material. However, whatever causes them (SMBH swallowing a star, or neutron stars colliding or something) obviously gives off alot of energy, and likely blasts back any accretion disk, and in my opinion signals the end of an active galactic nucleus phase, as all the food for the massive black hole is ionized and blasted into the disk of the galaxy, sparking new star formation and ending the black hole’s access to material.

    So the answer is yes, the Milky Way probably had one at one time, or even several, and the Sun and Earth are likely spawn of one such, but these days the Milky Way is quiet… so thankfully we don’t expect to see except from really far away.

    p. tanwani,

    Aw shucks, it weren’t nothin.

  15. Weird. On the one hand, it’s a really grainy, lo-res video that’s not exactly mind blowing. Then when I realise what caused it & the brain-twisting amounts of energy involved, the realisation I’m watching a real force of nature makes it really awesome

  16. WOW, God really is a BIG BIG God. Just when we thought we had set a cieling on the largest gamma ray ever. All of sudden God throws us for a loop and know we have to chahge our whole way of thinking-WOW!!!!!!

  17. Charles Says:
    March 25th, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Charles, :), your not actually from this planet are you? I’m guessing Kapax? close?

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