Observed by Texas telescope: Light from huge explosion 12 billion years ago reaches EarthJune 04, 2014
Intense light from the enormous explosion of a star more than 12 billion years ago -- shortly after the Big Bang -- recently reached Earth and was visible in the sky.
Known as a gamma-ray burst, light from the rare, high-energy explosion traveled for 12.1 billion years before it was detected and observed by a telescope owned by Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
Gamma-ray bursts are believed to be the catastrophic collapse of a star at the end of its life. SMU physicists report that their telescope was the first on the ground to observe the burst and to capture an image, said Farley Ferrante, a graduate student in SMU's Department of Physics, who monitored the observations along with two astronomers in Turkey and Hawaii.
Recorded as GRB 140419A by NASA's Gamma-ray Coordinates Network, the burst was spotted at 11 p.m. April 19 by SMU's robotic telescope, ROTSE-IIIB, at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.
Gamma-ray bursts are not well understood by astronomers, but they are considered important, Ferrante said.
"As NASA points out, gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe since the Big Bang," he said. "These bursts release more energy in 10 seconds than our Earth's sun during its entire expected lifespan of 10 billion years."
Some of these gamma-ray bursts appear to be related to supernovae, and correspond to the end-of-life of a massive star, said Robert Kehoe, physics professor and leader of the SMU astronomy team.
"Gamma-ray bursts may be particularly massive cousins to supernovae, or may correspond to cases in which the explosion ejecta are more beamed in our direction. By studying them, we learn about supernovae," Kehoe said.
Scientists weren't able to detect optical light from gamma-ray bursts until the late 1990s, when telescope technology improved. Among all lights in the electromagnetic spectrum, gamma rays have the shortest wavelengths and are visible only using special detectors.
Gamma-ray bursts result from hot stars that measure as enormous as 50 solar masses. The explosion occurs when the stars run out of fuel and collapse in on themselves, forming black holes. Outer layers detonate, shooting out material along the rotation axis in powerful, high-energy jets that include gamma radiation. As the gamma radiation declines, the explosion produces an afterglow of visible optical light. The light, in turn, fades very quickly, said Kehoe. Physicists calculate the distance of the explosion based on the shifting wavelength of the light, or redshift.
"The optical light is visible for anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours," Kehoe said. "Sometimes optical telescopes can capture the spectra. This allows us to calculate the redshift of the light, which tells us how fast the light is moving away from us. This is an indirect indication of the distance from us."
To put into context the age of the new gamma-ray burst discoveries, Kehoe and Ferrante point out that the Big Bang occurred 13.81 billion years ago. GRB 140419A is at a red shift of 3.96, Ferrante said.
"That means that GRB 140419A exploded about 12.1 billion years ago," he said, "which is only about one and a half billion years after the universe began. That is really old."
Armed with images of the burst, astronomers can analyze the observational data to draw further conclusions about the structure of the early universe.
"At the time of this gamma-ray burst's explosion, the universe looked vastly different than it does now," Kehoe said. "It was an early stage of galaxy formation. There weren't heavy elements to make Earth-like planets. So this is a glimpse at the early universe. Observing gamma-ray bursts is important for gaining information about the early universe."
GRB 140419A's brightness, measured by its ability to be seen by someone on Earth, was of the 12th magnitude, Kehoe said, indicating it was only 10 times dimmer than what is visible through binoculars, and only 200 times dimmer than the human eye can see, Kehoe said.
"The difference in brightness is about the same as between the brightest star you can see in the sky, and the dimmest you can see with the naked eye on a clear, dark night," Kehoe said. "Considering this thing was at the edge of the visible universe, that's an extreme explosion. That was something big. Really big."
SMU telescope responded to NASA satellite's detection and notification
SMU's Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) IIIb is a robotic telescope. It is part of a network of ground telescopes responsive to a NASA satellite that is central to the space agency's Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission. Images of the gamma-ray bursts are at http://bit.ly/1kKZeh5.
When the Swift satellite detects a gamma-ray burst, it instantly relays the location. Telescopes around the world, such as SMU's ROTSE-IIIb, swing into action to observe the burst's afterglow and capture images, said Govinda Dhungana, an SMU graduate student who participated in the gamma-ray burst research.
SMU's ROTSE-IIIb observes optical emission from several gamma-ray bursts each year. It observed GRB 140419A just 55 seconds after the burst was detected by Swift.
Just days later, ROTSE-IIIb observed and reported a second rare and distant gamma-ray burst, GRB 140423A, at 3:30 a.m. April 23. The redshift of that burst corresponds to a look back in time of 11.8 billion years. ROTSE-IIIb observed it 51 seconds after the burst was detected by Swift.
"We have the brightest detection and the earliest response on both of those because our telescope is fully robotic and no human hands were involved," Ferrante said.
Ferrante was first to check observations on GRB 140423A and so is first-author. Tolga Guver, associate professor in the Department of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Istanbul University, Turkey, is second author. On GRB 140419A, Guver is first author and Ferrante is second.
SMUResearch.com on Twitter, http://twitter.com/smuresearch.
For more information, http://www.smuresearch.com.
SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see http://www.smu.edu.
SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.
Southern Methodist University
Related Big Bang Articles:
A Dartmouth study finds that 'Big Food' companies are striving to make food more sustainable from farm to factory but have less power than you might think.
The Simons Observatory will be built in the Chilean Atacama desert for the purposes of studying primordial gravitational waves which originated in the first instants of the Big Bang.
Researchers find cost-effective solutions to sediment runoff and other land-based pollution affecting West Maui reefs
Astronomers at Lomonosov Moscow State University in cooperation with their French colleagues and with the help of citizen scientists have released 'The Reference Catalog of galaxy SEDs,' which contains value-added information about 800,000 galaxies.
Struggling to get your creative juices flowing for a new idea or project?
Do big-brained creatures steal energy for them from other organs or eat more to supply this expensive tissue?
Swansea University physicists working with an international collaborative team at CERN, conduct the first precision study of antihydrogen, the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen.
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at UC Riverside has received $3 million from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers who will learn how to exploit the power of big data to understand insects.
A Griffith University physicist is challenging the conventional view of space and time to show how the world advances through time.
A team of physicists just received $2.1 million in funding for 2016-2017 from DOE's Advanced Scientific Computing Research program to enhance a 'workload management system' for handling the ever-increasing data demands of two experiments at the Large Hadron Collider and expanding its use as a general workload management service for a Department of Energy supercomputer.
Related Big Bang Reading:
Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe
by Simon Singh (Author)
A half century ago, a shocking Washington Post headline claimed that the world began in five cataclysmic minutes rather than having existed for all time; a skeptical scientist dubbed the maverick theory the Big Bang. In this amazingly comprehensible history of the universe, Simon Singh decodes the mystery behind the Big Bang theory, lading us through the development of one of the most extraordinary, important, and awe-inspiring theories in science.View Details
Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible
by Gerald Schroeder (Author)
In this groundbreaking book, physicist Gerald Schroeder takes on skeptics from both sides of the cosmological debate, arguing that science and the Bible are not at odds concerning the origin of the universe. View Details
2018 The Big Bang Theory Wall Calendar (Day Dream)
by Day Dream (Author)
Spend the year with your favorite geniuses…. and friends, including Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, Penny, Amy, and Bernadette. View Details
The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks
by Terry Herman Sissons Ph.D (Author)
If you are among the many who think of billions, or a hundred thousand, or tens of millions of years ago as all just “a very very long time ago,” The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks will be an enlightening surprise. Terry Sissons divides time into six chunks - fewer numbers than are in a telephone number - to create a review of the 13.7 billion years of all of time. The surprise is that learning just these six chunks can transform one’s understanding of time from grand confusion to quite amazing clarity. The Big Bang to Now is not packed with dense pages detailing what... View Details
Bang!: How We Came to Be
by Michael Rubino (Author)
"Bang! And that was it, the beginning of everything."
So begins this beautifully illustrated, panoramic story of evolution. Author and illustrator Michael Rubino conveys not only the facts but also the excitement of the scientific explanation of our world, from the origin of the universe in the big bang to the present reality of our planet, teeming with life but threatened by overpopulation and pollution.
Parents looking for an easy-to-understand guide to the scientific worldview for their children will find the perfect source here. The formation of stars and galaxies; the... View Details
George and the Big Bang (George's Secret Key)
by Stephen Hawking (Author), Lucy Hawking (Author), Garry Parsons (Illustrator)
Explore how the universe began—and thwart evil along the way—in this cosmic adventure from Stephen and Lucy Hawking that includes a graphic novel.
George has problems. He has twin baby sisters at home who demand his parents’ attention. His beloved pig Freddy has been exiled to a farm, where he’s miserable. And worst of all, his best friend, Annie, has made a new friend whom she seems to like more than George. So George jumps at the chance to help Eric with his plans to run a big experiment in Switzerland that seeks to explore the earliest moment of the universe. But... View Details
The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom
by Gerald L. Schroeder Ph.D. (Author)
For the readers of The Language of God, another instant classic from "a sophisticated and original scholar" (Kirkus Reviews) that disputes the idea that science is contrary to religion.
In The Science of God, distinguished physicist and Biblical scholar Gerald L. Schroeder demonstrates the surprising parallels between a variety of Biblical teachings and the findings of biochemists, paleontologists, astrophysicists, and quantum physicists. In a brilliant and wide-ranging discussion of key topics that have divided science and religion—free will, the development of... View Details
God and the Big Bang, (2nd Edition): Discovering Harmony Between Science and Spirituality
by Daniel C. Matt (Author)
God is not somewhere else, hidden from us; God is right here, hidden from us.
"We are part of something greater: a vast web of existence constantly expanding and evolving. When we gaze at the nighttime sky, we can ponder that we are made of elements forged within stars, out of particles born in the big bang.... Beyond any star or galaxy we will ever identify lies the horizon of spacetime, fourteen billion light years away. But neither God nor the big bang is that far away. The big bang didn't happen somewhere out there, outside of us. Rather, we began inside the big... View Details
Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in the Age of Devastating Inovation
by Larry Downes (Author), Paul Nunes (Author)
It used to take years or even decades for disruptive innovations to dethrone dominant products and services. But now any business can be devastated virtually overnight by something better and cheaper. How can executives protect themselves and harness the power of Big Bang Disruption?
Just a few years ago, drivers happily spent more than $200 for a GPS unit. But as smartphones exploded in popularity, free navigation apps exceeded the performance of stand-alone devices. Eighteen months after the debut of the navigation apps, leading GPS manufacturers had lost 85... View Details
The Big Bang Theory: The Official Trivia Guide
by Adam Faberman (Author)
This completely authorized Big Bang Theory trivia and quiz book is filled with questions from every season, photos, hilarious quotes, and more, including excerpts from the Roommate Agreement and your chance to play ‘Emily or Cinnamon.’ It’s sure to provide hours of fun and test the knowledge of even the most dedicated fan.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular sitcoms in the world and the funniest show on TV. It is beloved by critics and audiences alike for its quick wit, incredibly geeky but relatable characters, and its science and science fiction... View Details