Naked eye visible GRB!

By Phil Plait | March 20, 2008 9:41 am

Holy Haleakala! Yesterday, a gamma-ray burst went off that was so bright that had you been looking at the right spot in the sky you could have seen it with just your own eyes!

It’s difficult to put this into the proper context. GRBs are monumental explosions, the exploding of a massive star where most of the energy of the catastrophe is channeled into twin beams of energy. These beams scream out from the explosion like cosmic blowtorches, and for thousands of light years anything they touch is destroyed. Happily for us, GRBs always appear hundreds of millions or billions of light years away.

Let me put this in perspective for you. Imagine a one megaton nuclear weapon detonating. That’s roughly 50 times the explosive yield of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Devastating.

The Sun, every second of every day of every year, gives off 100 billion times this much energy. That’s every second. A star is a terrifying object.

In the few seconds that a gamma-ray burst lasts, it packs a million million million times that much energy into its beams. In other words, for those few ticks of a clock the GRB is sending out more energy than the Sun will in its entire lifetime.

There is, quite simply, no way to exaggerate the devastation of a gamma-ray burst.

Yet for all that, they are optically faint due to their terrible distance. At billions of light years away, even the Universe’s second biggest bangs are difficult to see.

So that’s what makes GRB 080319B (the second GRB seen on 2008 March 19) so incredible: distance measurements put it at 7.5 billion light years away, yet it was visible to the unaided eye had you just happened to be looking up at the sky at that moment.


This is the single brightest GRB ever seen in optical light, so as you can imagine reports are pouring in from observatories all over the world right now. Anything this bright must be extraordinary, and you can bet that astronomers will be falling over themselves to observe this incredible event. We still don’t know enough about GRBS; just what mechanisms focus those beams? We know black holes are at their core, powering these events, but how do the gravity and magnetic fields come together to generate forces like this? How tightly focused are the beams? Do they open at a one degree angle? 5? 10? Why does every GRB behave somewhat differently, with some lasting for seconds and others for minutes?

And why was this one so frakkin’ bright? Was it a more energetic explosion itself, or were we, by coincidence, looking precisely down the center of the beam? If the beam of a GRB is pointed ever-so-slightly away from us, so that the edge nicks us, the GRB will look fainter. By staring down the throat of a GRB we’d see it as bright as it could possibly be. Maybe GRB080319B had us dead in its sights.

Watching the extremes of GRB behavior can help us constrain the more normal aspects of them… if you can even use the word "normal" when it comes to such titanic explosions on these scales. There is a fascination we humans have with such terrible events, an atavistic thrill even when our puny brains can’t comprehend the size and scale of them.

I wrote about GRBs extensively for my book Death from the Skies!, and spent a lot of time working through the math and thinking about the destruction they can wreak. If you want to know what my nightmares look like, then GRBs are a good place to start. I’m just glad there (most likely) aren’t any stars nearby that can do this. I like GRBs… when they’re far, far away.

Two notes to follow-up: according to the GRB Real Time Skymap (which I used to work on), there were 5 GRBs seen yesterday. That needs to be confirmed, but if true that’s a record! Second, I’ve written quite a bit about GRBs on this blog, so feel free to go back and check out more on these incredible objects.

Comments (112)

  1. Wow, how cool is that? Did anyone capture it on film? I would love to see it!

  2. Cameron

    Well, thank you SO much for making it easy for me to sleep tonight.

  3. w_nightshade

    My heart is POUNDING with excitement right now. And NOT just because you used the word “atavistic”.

  4. Yoshi_3up

    Woah. That’s frikkin’ awesome.

  5. I haven’t seen any images floating around yet, but they’ll pop up soon. I’ll try to stay on top of this; I imagine that we’ll be hearing about it for weeks; as it fades we can see the host galaxy better, and astronomers will be on that like ugly on an ape.

  6. 7.5 billion light years … apparent magnitude +5.6 … If I did my math right, this sucker had an absolute magnitude of -36.2. The Milky Way’s is -20.5, so for those few seconds the GRB was more than one million times brighter than our whole galaxy.

    To put things in a somewhat more local perspective, it would have been (momentarily) brighter than Venus if it were anywhere in the Virgo Cluster, almost as bright as the full Moon if it were in the Andromeda Galaxy, and brighter than the Sun anywhere within several thousand light years.


  7. Sergeant Zim

    Dr. BA, you said that there probably aren’t any stars close to us that can go GRB, what about Eta Carinae? Is it too small? I surely hope so, because it’s known to be *rather* unstable, and at it’s distance, if it went *BOOM* like GRB080319B we’d be icky toast in short order.

  8. Well I blogged about ’19B like hours and hours ago ;-) and illustrated with a really nifty animated gif which I found at Pi of the sky.

  9. Todd

    “Maybe GRB080319B had us dead in its sights.”

    Ahhhhh! We’re doomed! The end of the world is nigh! Ahhhhh!

  10. Nigel Depledge

    GRB080319B: The best Bang since the Big One!

  11. I just happened to do the math: at a distance of 2700 light years, GRB 080319B would have been as bright as the Sun. At that distance, you’d need a telescope to see the Sun at all – it would be about 14th magnitude.

  12. madge

    How cool is that? This is me picking my jaw up and smacking my gob in excitement!

  13. Celtic_Evolution


    Frighteningly, terrifyingly, spectacularly awesome!

    I’m with Heather… i hope someone somewhere captured this thing on video. Looking forward to seeing that.

  14. Thomas Siefert

    Will you leave blank pages after each chapter in your book for comments?

  15. Kullat Nunu

    If the bursts are truly random, then in all likelihood once a while there should be bigger clumps like yesterday.

    An image of the burst at magnitude 19 as seen from our local astronomy association’s telescope. They were lucky to catch the afterglow, as the weather was far from perfect.

    I just happened to do the math: at a distance of 2700 light years, GRB 080319B would have been as bright as the Sun. At that distance, you’d need a telescope to see the Sun at all – it would be about 14th magnitude.

    And in gamma rays the burst would be insanely brighter than our star and make our life rather difficult.

  16. This story was reported by me yesterday: Yes, the burst’s optical light was recorded by at least one camera when it would have been (faintly) visible to the naked eye.

  17. Kullat Nunu

    I’m with Heather… i hope someone somewhere captured this thing on video. Looking forward to seeing that.

    See the Pi of the Sky website, they have one. Between frames 96 and 107. The burst is at least as bright as the brightest stars in the field.

  18. Gnat

    If gamma ray bursts are always so far away, that means yesterday’s burst actually happened 7+ billion years ago? So are GRB’s a phenomenon of the past? And is that why we don’t see them closer?

  19. Maybe that was ACC’s way of telling us that the journey went well… :-)

  20. Paradox

    That is so cool I can hardly stand it. The universe is a terrifying and amazing place.

  21. Given that the burst is so short, at what distance would the total amount of absorbed radiation be enough to heat the Earth’s atmosphere, say, five degrees?

  22. Rui Borges, I like that. :-)

  23. Michael Lonergan

    Phil said:
    “A star is a terrifying object.”

    All of a sudden I hear the words of Achmed The Dead Terrorist ringing in my head:

    Jeff Dunham: What kind of terrorist are you?

    Achmed: A terrifying terrorist.

    That is truly amazing what a GRB can do. I guess any life in that part of that galaxy is pretty well toast?

  24. I don’t know why people are scared of these things. If one goes off in our celestial backyard, they won’t have any time to worry about dying because they’ll already be dead. It’s the same mentality that allows them to fear being attacked by vampires or werewolves as they walk home in the dark after seeing a movie that contains such. If you’ve got something like that on your tail, there’s no point in worrying about it because you’re hosed no matter what you do. :D

    Besides, it’s obviously the system-destroying super-weapon of some intergalactic super-villain. Zapp Branigan or Luke Skywalker or James Kirk will be along in a bit to sort things out.

  25. It’s Arthur, going into the Monolith!

    Seriously, I think we should rename it after Arthur C. Clarke. It’s like he was saying goodbye in his own inimitable way.

  26. Rui Borges: Damn, and I thought I was the first person to think of that! I did a quick text search for “Arthur” on this page and nothing came up, so I thought I’d get in quick. Didn’t think to search for “ACC”!

  27. Rob the Lurker FCD BMWCCA

    If it’s 7.5 billion light years away, wouldn’t that make it OLD news?

  28. MaDeR

    “That is truly amazing what a GRB can do. I guess any life in that part of that galaxy is pretty well toast?”

    Fortunately, no. These bursts are NOT omnidirectional. This is something from poles of star, if I recall correctly, so we have two beams of tighly focused death.

    So toasted be will only these unlucky enough to be:
    1. In way of burst.
    2. Sufficiently close.

    We have 1, but not 2. Lucky!

  29. Mark Martin

    The coordinates put it in Bootes. But there was a nearly full Moon last night. Would it really have been clearly visible to the eye against the wash? What is the magnitude of the sky under such conditions?

  30. alfaniner

    Two things I may have missed the blog post (although they may have been linked to)

    1) How bright was it?
    2) How long did it last?

    Just to kind of put things in perspective.

  31. Ghank

    “Happily for us, GRBs always appear hundreds of millions or billions of light years away.”

    Always? really? What “facts” are you basing this statement on? I thought that it was possible for almost any star to explode releasing a GRB, but if GRBs “always” appear that far away, I guess we have nothing to worry about.

  32. Shoeshine Boy

    Woah, indeed.

    Am I correct in assuming that despite being very bright by GRB standards that the event presented little or no risk to the astronauts in orbit?

  33. Kok…me too… ;-)
    Herring…if we were in the farwest you would be doomed… :-)

    BTW, have you guys read my open letter at spacEurope?
    I would really like to know your opinion about naming the future Phoenix landing site as a tribute to ACC…Phil?

  34. Sean

    Does anyone know where this GRB occured at?

  35. Gary Mcleod

    To add a little perspective, this GRB 080319B is 7.5 billion light years away, so that explosion took place nearly 3 billion years before our solar system was even formed. Gulp. 8O

  36. I love explosions, and a GRB is hard to beat in terms of explosions. I wonder how many UFO sightings there were, though. :P

  37. Well, just to sort of clarify the incomprehensible gibberish in the above post (it’s in Dutch), it’s a citation of a post in an Astrology Blog and it states a lot of technical data, some of which is mentioned in Phill’s post. But it also mentions that there is talk of calling the gamma-ray-burst the Arthur C Clarke burst, as it happened the day poor Art passed on. The final statement it makes is: Coincidence? Well, yes, but by all means, make it so!
    On a side note, what if a gamma ray burst happened some 2000 lightyears ago, wouldn’t it be close and strong enough to wipe us out right about this time, provided it was pointed exactly at us? Or would you see some evidence of it today so we can safely say, no there weren’t any bursts in the past that could have threatened us today?

  38. Remind me never to get too close to a GRB.

    Some years ago, there was a role-playing game that had size categories for firearms: Small Gun, Medium Gun, Big Gun, Really Huge Gun, and Please Don’t Point That At My Planet. It’s rather humbling to realize that that last category is nothing compared to what nature has built on her own.

  39. Now finally NASA has realized as well what happened … :-)

  40. “The best Bang since the Big One!”
    Considering what it cost him, I would hope Eliot Spitzer’s was better.

  41. Mark Martin

    For everyone’s reference, the event was located at the following sky coordinates:

    Right Ascension 14:31:40.98, Declination +36:18:8.8

    That’s in the constellation Bootes, which is well over the Northern Hemisphere.

  42. Matt H.

    There’s never a dull moment in this universe. :)

  43. Ghank, the closest GRB for which we have a distance was several hundred million light years away. So the fact I am basing this on is, well, fact. That’s not to say one can’t happen closer, but it’s unlikely. GRBs were probably more common in the early Universe for a variety of reasons, which I have written about before. Follow the links in the article.

  44. Oops — the nearest GRB was GRB980425 at a distance of roughly 130 million light years (and it was underluminous, very faint for a GRB). So “several hundred million” was an overestimate, but the point remains that none has been seen even as close by as the nearest cluster of galaxies.

  45. Michael Lonergan

    Wait a sec! To all those that are saying this was a sign of ACC completing the journey… Wasn’t ACC an atheist? So, he didn’t go anywhere…

    Me bad… I spanked myself.

    It is awesome to realize that our solar system had not been born when this star exploded. Just think of other worlds that may have seen this event before we did. I wonder, if there were any intelligent beings there, what their thoughts were? All I can say is wow!

    BTW, I loved ACC’s works. It is what turned me on to all things Space related. Unfortunately, when I went through my “religious” phase, those books got turfed because some fundies convinced me that they were of the debil. How sad.

  46. john

    tonight at about 7:30 pm cst i was looking at the moon, there was a bright light which i thought was a star. then moments later it was gone. did anybody else see this.

  47. Buzz Parsec

    Ghank -

    There hasn’t been a GRB close enough (and pointed close enough to us) to destroy all life on Earth for at least 500 million years, probably for much longer. This puts a lower limit on the typical distance. The chance of pointing at us is random, and the width of the cone of destruction is determined by the physics, so the only thing left is “how often do they happen in a given volume of space?” In other words,
    “how many GRB’s per trillion cubic light years per billion years?” We don’t know enough yet to answer this precisely, but we do know it is a very small number (probably much less than 1), and enough to make useful estimates. The the 2nd interesting question is “Is this number declining over the life of the Universe?”, and yes, it seems to be. GRB’s are rarer now than they were billions of years ago.

    But if one has got it in its sights, I for one welcome our new gammatic overlords.

  48. sci-fi guy

    Is it at all possible that this was some sort of massive rail gun-like weapon fired directly at Earth? It may be many light years away so the huge energy burst is detected but the projectile is not. Now we have no choice but to wait for the inevitable.
    Just a crazy scifi-fueled theory. :)

    It’s so hard to imagine that we’re directly in the path of this gigantic explosion.

  49. Great informative article! How much research is being done into the gravity and EM coupling? Do you have any references you could pass along? Thanks!

  50. Scott

    What part of the sky “we” are talking about??????????????????????

  51. on the alpha galileo website they say the burst was 20 billion light years away if the universe is 14 billion yrs old how did the light from it get here.

  52. Grand Lunar

    Since I read here that the GRB was visible in the northern hemisphere, I’m guessing that I saw this object.

    It was rather cloudy, but in the northeastern sky, I did see a rather bright star. It seemed as bright as Venus, with how the thin clouds were lit by it.

    Least, I hope that was what I saw. I’d hate to think I missed such a thing!

  53. 90210210212102556599845564

    duh did you not see the picture at the top of the page,Heather?

  54. Jim

    WE SAW IT!!! Here in Toronto, my friend’s apartment has a clear view and very large windows overlooking the western part of the sky. We were watching a movie with the lights inside turned down. All of a sudden the whole sky outside lit up. We thought that was very unusual and explained it away as a lightening/storm system moving into the area.

  55. wow…cool! When is the next event due? I want to make sure I have plenty of marshmallows and really long stick handy!…:)

  56. Oh good grief…” # ???? | ??”….it’s not all that bad! I see you got all choked up and didn’t have anything to say in your comment, but don’t worry. I’ll share my marshmallows with you. But, you’ll have to find your own really long stick tho. But Hurry up…..the next event may come before we’re ready!

  57. Ghank wrote:

    [[I thought that it was possible for almost any star to explode releasing a GRB, but if GRBs “always” appear that far away, I guess we have nothing to worry about.]]

    No. Most stars cannot explode. The only stars that explode are very massive ones at the very end of their lifetimes. This is considerably less than 1% of stars in general.

    Stars work by fusing hydrogen to helium at their cores. When they do this they are on the “main sequence” displayed in the HR diagram. About 90% of stars are main sequence stars, including the sun.

    When the core hydrogen is used up, the core compresses, and the hydrogen around that starts to burn — “shell burning.” If the star is large enough, the helium now at the core will eventually ignite, fusing into carbon. The larger the star, the more weird types of fusion eventually go on at the core. Really massive old stars exhibit an “onion-ring” structure with a layer of hydrogen enclosing one of helium, which encloses one of carbon, etc., etc. The sequence can go all the way to silicon fusing into iron, and when this happens — “the silicon-burning day,” since it only takes a couple dozen hours — fusion can’t go on any more. Iron-56 is near the bottom of the packing-fraction curve, so you can’t get it to fuse without an input of energy the star just doesn’t have. Your massive star with an iron core suddenly collapses — all the layers get compressed as they fall inward — and most of the mass of the star fuses at once. You get a Type II supernova. Try not to be near one of those when it goes off.

    The gamma-ray bursters must be an especially large class of old, dying star. It may be that stars that massive aren’t around any more, which is why all the GRBs we’ve seen so far are far away — we’re seeing fossil light; they all happened a long time ago. I hope that’s the case; it would make the universe a little friendlier to life and intelligence, which might not have existed that far back in universal history. But I don’t think all the data is in yet.

  58. Michael Lonergan writes:

    [[Wait a sec! To all those that are saying this was a sign of ACC completing the journey… Wasn’t ACC an atheist? So, he didn’t go anywhere…

    BTW, I loved ACC’s works. It is what turned me on to all things Space related. Unfortunately, when I went through my “religious” phase, those books got turfed because some fundies convinced me that they were of the debil. How sad.]]

    Arthur C. Clarke was not an atheist. He was a believer in the modernist religion Creative Evolution (Henri Bergson, L’Evolution Creatrice, 1907). To CE folks (though not to biologists) evolution has an “upward” direction that just keeps getting better and better, and humanity will eventually evolve into a superbeing. This was the theme of Clarke’s classic SF novel, Childhood’s End (1955?), and could also be seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Other writers on Creative Evolution include the late Teilhard de Chardin and Frank J. Tipler.

  59. Damn, I missed a close-italics tag above. Sorry about that.

  60. darrin langlois posts:

    [[on the alpha galileo website they say the burst was 20 billion light years away if the universe is 14 billion yrs old how did the light from it get here.]]

    It was closer when it gave off that light.

  61. Hi!!

    El universo es inmenso y muy lindo. Nunca podremos saber lo que hay en el más alla.
    Vida en otras galaxias? en nuestro sistema solar? quien sabe?…. y algún día lo sabremos?…

    Buenos Aires – Argentina

  62. Radwaste

    By cosmic coincidence, GRB080319B is the Asocial Insecurity Designator of Eccentrica Gallumbits, who is indeed the biggest remaining “bang”.

    I say this, convinced that Douglas knew all this in his bones long before any of us observed and reasoned it out.

  63. Sully

    “Besides, it’s obviously the system-destroying super-weapon of some intergalactic super-villain. Zapp Branigan or Luke Skywalker or James Kirk will be along in a bit to sort things out.”

    It could just as easily been a farmer clearing his field of weeds before planting. Or some kid who figured out the combination of his daddy’s trigger lock.

  64. Michael Lonergan

    Barton, don’t ever forget to close of your italics again! I was so mad! :)

    I thought I’d read a statement by ACC where he was quoted as saying he was an atheist. But thinking about it, what you said makes sense in light of some of his writings.

    JediBear, wondered about how many UFO sightings…

    I wonder how many UFO’s were destroyed because they were in the direct line of fire!

  65. Sully

    “[[Wait a sec! To all those that are saying this was a sign of ACC completing the journey… Wasn’t ACC an atheist? So, he didn’t go anywhere…”

    Even if ACC was an atheist, that doesn’t mean he didn’t go anywhere. Maybe he’s sleeping with the fishes, and maybe he got a pleasant (or unpleasant) surprise.

  66. Michael Lonergan

    That unpleasant surprise being greeted at the Pearly Gates by Jerry Falwell… :)

  67. Sully

    “That unpleasant surprise being greeted at the Pearly Gates by Jerry Falwell… ”

    Or maybe even worse – nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  68. Jess Tauber

    My jaw hit the floor…
    Clarke’s Burst.
    On his way out the door…
    Perhaps he saw it first.

    Jess Tauber

  69. JC

    OK, I just read an article about this GRB at

    I don’t understand something. They say “The enormous energy released in the explosion – brighter than the light from all of the stars in five million Milky Way Galaxies – was caused by the death of a massive star which collapsed to form a black hole”

    What exactly are they saying? Is this GRB releasing the amount of energy that is contained in five million Milky Way Galaxies (very hard to believe) or is the amount of energy released from this GRB equivalent to the amount of light that falls on the earth from five million Milky Way Galaxies. Or, is there another explanation?


  70. TC

    I didn’t see this mentioned anywhere yet. There could be a GRB close enough to us to potentially affect us if we really are aligned with its pole.

  71. Mark Martin


    What that means is that the wattage-the rate at which energy is being released-is greater than that of some huge number of galaxies. But it can only sustain that rate for a very brief length of time. It’s rather like money and spending. I may have no more money in the bank than anyone else on average. In principle it’s possible for me to spend what I have recklessly, much faster than the rate of all my more thrifty neighbors combined. But it won’t last very long.

  72. Mark

    People talk as if it were a fact that GRBs give off their energy in beams (rather than in every direction). I know there was some evidence for beaming recently (I think it was a paper in Nature or Science), but my impression was that the evidence was somewhat sketchy. Has there more evidence generated for the hypothesis that GRBs give off their energy in beams? Just looking at the NASA photograph, it looks like the thing was giving off energy in every direction. Would it take a force much more powerful than the burst itself to direct all that energy into beams?

    Thanks for any insight …

  73. Ryan

    Stop and think for a second folks, an explosion 7.5 billion light years away that was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye? How could any of you possibly believe something so ridiculous?

    Gamma Ray Bursts are caused by dying white dwarfs. They run out of incoming current energy, this causes electrostatic repulsive forces between the protons in the positively charged central plasma to begin to overwhelm the attractive magnetic field stacking energy of Birkland currents. Once the repulsive force overwhelms the attractive force the whole thing goes kaboom. What’s left over afterward is the dense negative/electron plasma that occupied the space on the other side of the dual layer between positively and negatively charged solar plasma. This negative plasma then emits synchrotron radiation.

    Please, google gamma ray bursts in the laboratory. You can make the exact same thing we see in space happen here on earth using a small scale version of what I just described. First there’s the polar explosion, then there’s the synchrotron radiation.

    As to why people think it’s so far away, that’s based on the “redshift is ONLY, ONLY, ONLY and under no circumstances every caused by anything but recessional velocity and therefore distance.” Has anyone ever shown you a shred of evidence for that position? No, they haven’t, because it’s wrong. Actual redshift and distance measurements (based on paralax and other methods) show no linear relationship. Rather, certain redshifts are favored, indicating red shifting is somehow quantized, and what quantum of red shifting the galaxy shows does not relate to how far away it is.

    The reason people think there have to be black holes at the center of these bursts, instead of wimpy white dwarfs, is the way the incorrect distance measurement forces the observed energy to ridiculous levels. I expect respected cosmologists will have to come up with some new type of super massive black hole neutron start collision nonsense to explain away the huge amount of energy the math will say that burst produced.

    Please folks, use your own minds and stop trusting the government bureaucrats to think for you. The sheer mass of non-empirical objects like dark matter, dark energy, ort clouds, neutronium, black holes that emit antimatter, and so on, should have clued you in some time ago that this whole gravity explains everything theory is a bunch of BS. As Heracleitus said, “It is the thunderbolt that steers the Universe.”

  74. What???


    You need to study a “little” bit of cosmology…
    There is a very suitable paper for you, “Expanding Confusion: common misconceptions of cosmological horizons and the superluminal expansion of the Universe” ( If you already have a confused mind have, imagine after reading this paper…
    Thus, if that one is high-level for you, I recommend you “Distance measures in cosmology” (
    Read and study before speaking nonsense…

    First of all, there are many definitions of cosmological distances. This “naked-eye” GRB 080319B happened 7.5 billion years ago (redshift z = 0.94). There is a strong relation between time and z, but it is not linear whatsoever! The correspondent luminosity distance is ~ 20 billion light years, and it’s this distance that must be used in the absolute magnitude formula.

    I guess you became more upset now, if 7.5 billion light years was something so ridiculous to believe, imagine now 20 billion light years, right???

  75. Wow, cool. But it’s not something bad for your eye, is it?

  76. Dr_LHA

    Mark: GRBs basically have to be beamed, otherwise the amount of energy they give off would be too large to explain.

    Ryan: Basically your post is Star Trek like babble that has no scientific meaning. Let me guess, your a fan of Electric Universe?

  77. joe

    A basic question for you astronomers but something that I have always been curious about -

    Does this mean that the GRB actually occurred 7.5 billion years ago and that it has taken that long for the light to reach us so that we could actually see the event?

  78. Grand Lunar


    I do believe you’re correct.
    A more complete explaination could be given by someone else that’s far more knowledgable in this subject than I.

    Something occurred to me; what would the astronauts (and cosmonauts, I assume) have seen from the ISS? Imagine if there was a spacewalk at that time!

    Oh, and in reference to my earlier post; I saw the light in the southeastern sky, not the northeastern.
    Would that be correct for the view of the GRB from the latitude of Orlando, FL?

  79. DNA


    GRB 080319B was one of four bursts that Swift detected, a Swift record for one day. “Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma ray bursts,” said Swift science team member Judith Racusin of Penn State University in University Park, Pa.

    “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

  80. Ryan

    Dear Whatt???,

    I read the papers you linked and neither of them relate in any way to the argument I was making. Please, if you’d like me to believe there is a relationship of some sort between redshift and distance link me to published data that relates reliable measurements of distance to redshift. I’ve seen a lot of compilations of said data and none are in any way consistent with the Hubble law.

    The first paper you linked dealt with the descriptive differences in special and general relativistic formulations of an expanding universe. Please, take a second look at part 5, “discussion” where the author concedes he has no empirical evidence for his positions but rather just finds them intuitively more appealing. The author says, “If
    recession velocity were meaningless we could not refer to an “expanding universe” and would have to restrict ourselves to some operational description such as ‘fainter objects have larger redshifts.’”

    The author concedes the only justification for his view of redshifts is his commitment to the expanding universe idea. I guess you hoped the paper would be too “high level for me” and that I wouldn’t be able to see the flaws in the logic?

    The second paper has absolutely nothing to do with my argument. I frankly find it insulting you would think I was so completely unfamiliar with the ideas of how to measure cosmological distances. But the most important point is the paper is not a compilation of empirical evidence, rather it’s just an overview of conclusions. Please, if there really is some sort of empirical evidence for the redshift distance relationship, let me read that paper. But until then, don’t link irrelevant papers and tell me to read em before I speak nonsense. Remember, Mr. What???, you are the one who thinks an explosion 7.5 billion light years away could be seen with the naked eye. That’s phenomenally stupid. You also conflate something being 7.5 billion light years away as being the same as an event happening 7.5 billion years in “the past.” What the hell past are you talking about? 7.5 billion years ago for who? Earth? That star? A galaxy one million light years off to the left? People talking about so many light years away means so many light years in the past completely misunderstand time in general relativity.

    Dr. LHA, every term I used is a specific term of art in plasma cosmology. I know you may find it challenging, and as a fan of star trek myself I can see how you might make that mistake. However, just because you don’t know what a term of art means doesn’t mean it is necessarily star trek gibberish. It quite arrogant on your part to assume that because you don’t understand something it must be nonsense.

  81. Scaramouche

    I actually saw it when it happened and my corneas burned away. I’m completely blind now. That thing was frikkin’ bright, man!

  82. gopikrishnarec

    hi iam very eager to see some incident like which some saw a gamma ray burst in the sky with their naked eye . iam always unfortunate to see all such incidents because it wont talk more with the people. even i read only in this howstuffworks website,not through other people , if anybody having videos of this GRB’s please send through this website. thank yu

  83. Ryan, it’s exactly because I DO think for myself that I reject pseudoscience like the electric universe theory. The evidence that the red shift is cosmological is overwhelming, Halton Arp to the contrary. And if neutronium doesn’t exist, kindly explain what pulsars are made of. Is all of nuclear physics wrong along with all of modern astronomy?

  84. joe writes:

    [[Does this mean that the GRB actually occurred 7.5 billion years ago and that it has taken that long for the light to reach us so that we could actually see the event?]]

    Yes. Light in the sky is “fossil light,” a celestial object N light-years away looks the way it looked N years in the past.

  85. Ryan writes:

    [[you are the one who thinks an explosion 7.5 billion light years away could be seen with the naked eye. That’s phenomenally stupid. ]]

    Why is it stupid, Ryan? Give us the reasoning behind your statement. What is the maximum distance that an explosion can be seen at, and how did you derive that figure? Show your work.

  86. Ryan

    Hi Mr. Levenson,

    The reason I doubt anyone could see an explosion from that far off is the amount of energy necessary to get that light all the way here in such a bright state. I’m sure you know the theories behind GRB’s, that they are so energetic they have to be caused by collapsing super massive black holes or colliding neutron stars. The sheer volume of energy and the sheer mass of non-empirical object necessary to produce such a thing is never experienced anywhere near the Earth. That doesn’t make a wink of sense. If these explosions are part of the universe they shouldn’t only be a part of distant quadrants or distant times in the past. I mean, that’s what you are saying right? A long long time ago there were these huge things called neutron stars and from time to time a couple of them half the size of our solar system would slam into each other, but it never happens any more, and it never happened anywhere nearby. Listen, a day later I completely regret using the word stupid, and I’m sorry to anyone who was offended, it’s just rather unbelievable and I’d like to think people would not accept it on faith.

    If you look at the history of inflation theory and the big bang theory, every time we make better telescopes we find incredibly interesting things that don’t line up with the old model, so ad hoc modifications are made up. GRB’s used to be of reasonable size, and so they were thought to be a sort of supernova. Then we found bigger ones and offered black holes as the ad hoc excuse. Then GRB’s were discovered in boring parts of the edges of spiral galaxies, where, according to gravity cosmology, there are no black holes, so the ad hoc explanation of colliding neutron stars was proffered. I mean, doesn’t that clue you in that there’s some problem?

    Compare that to the electric model. First, it’s based on experimental evidence. You can make a GRB in a laboratory that closely resembled GRB’s in space. And, the mechanism for a GRB in a capacitor as star electric model perfectly explains why synchrotron radiation almost always follows the explosion. However, the electric model doesn’t require a thousand different types of these explosions to deal with sizes varying over several orders of magnitude. That is only required in the gravity theorists who have to explain how some GRB’s could be thousands of times more powerful than others, which species of the same event should by logic not be. And the “relativistic shock fronts” necessary to churn up all the baryonic matter into gamma rays are pretty darn non-empirical.

    I’m not sure what ‘overwhelming’ evidence for the Hubble law you are referring to. I’ve seen compilations of distance versus red shift for galaxies and objects for distances close enough to be measured with methods other than the Hubble law. In each case there is no linear relationship between red shift and distance. It’s a mild correlation at best. If there is some data set out there that shows known distances versus red shift and a R^2>.9 linear relationship I’d like to see that data. If there is no such data set then how in the world could there be any “proof?”

    As for so called neutron stars. Let’s talk about what’s actually being observed. It’s a pulsing radio signal. It emits short bursts of light at frequencies sometimes reaching thousands of hertz. It’s easy to make such a thing happen on Earth. Get yourself two capacitors, a voltage source and a non linear resister. Stick an amp meter on the sucker and watch the current pulse by at those same high frequencies. High frequency radio sources in deep space arise for the same reason. A star is highly energetic plasma where the nuclei of the ionized atoms migrate toward the center and the electrons migrate outwards. In between the two what’s referred to as a “dual layer” forms where most of the electrical potential energy is concentrated. This dual layer acts just like a capacitor, it stores voltage. So, the radio sources are quite likely binary star systems, where the two stars as capacitors exchange current in a non-linear way.

    Compare that with neutronium for a moment. The radio source is assumed without any corroborating evidence to be a strobe light effect, a beam is rotating very quickly and we’re catching the flashes, like a lighthouse. The highest frequency radio sources correspond to rotational speeds of several hundred revolutions per second. Since a star made of empirical matter would fly apart in no time at those speeds, a new sort of matter had to be invented ad hoc to not fly apart at those speeds. Enter neutronium. You asked me if all of nuclear physics must be wrong? How can you ask me that when it’s neutronium that flies in the face of nuclear physics. No two neutrons ever under any circumstance stick together outside of a nucleus. You could shoot two streams of them together at near the speed of light for the rest of your life and no two will stick together, but somehow trillions can? I know someone must have told you they had evidence that it could happen, but I bet you it wasn’t experimental data or an observation of some sort, but rather it was a large pile of mathematical equations. Math is not evidence, it’s a model. It’s not an explanation, it’s a way of parsing explanations that are too complex to be communicated in words.

    C’mon y’all. We “know” there is such a thing as “dark matter” because we “know” that only gravity governs the motion of a spiral galaxy, and that for gravity to make the galaxy move that way there would have to be a ton of other matter distributed in fantastically odd shapes. In plasma cosmology spiral galaxies move exactly like they’re predicted to, with no ad hoc invisible matter helping.

    I appreciate the fact that you want to base your positions on evidence and not pseudoscience, but what evidence are the gravity theorists giving you? When do they say, “I made this happen in the laboratory and it’s just like what we see in the telescope.” They never say that, when you’re looking at a telescope they’re singing a country song called “don’t trust your lying eyes.”

    To the extent that modern astronomy asks you to believe in non-empirical things like dark matter, dark energy, neutron starts and ort clouds, then it’s the one that ought to be called pseudoscience. I think your aversion to the electric universe model probably arose from you having a bad teacher. Try the webpage, they sell books and link to papers that you might find interesting.

  87. Dr_LHA

    Ryan: Sorry I guessed the wrong crank theory I guess. “Plasma cosmology” it is. I’ll guess right next time.

  88. Ryan

    Dr. LHA,

    Electric Universe and Plasma Cosmology are the same thing.

  89. KageTora

    You’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica too long.

  90. Ryan


    Well, I’d say it’s been too long since I watched Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t know there was a plasma cosmology reference. What episode?

  91. VK

    I think I may have seen it. Would it have been in the notheastern sky, red, appearing about 2 or 3 times the size of Mars?

  92. Tom Marking

    “The highest redshift system that we identify based on the MgII doublet and various other features has z=0.937, the presumed redshift of GRB 080319B”

    One question does occur to me. If the GRB is being caused by a blackhole in formation then how do we know that the observed redshift of 0.937 is cosmological in nature and not a gravitational redshift caused by the photons climbing out of an intense gravity well? Is there a way to tell the difference between a cosmological redshift and a gravitational redshift observationally?

  93. Tom Marking

    “So, the radio sources are quite likely binary star systems, where the two stars as capacitors exchange current in a non-linear way.”

    Ryan, if pulsars are caused by electrical interaction between stars in a binary system then why do we frequently find them associated with nebulae which may be interpreted as supernova remnants?

    Some examples are:

    The Crab Nebula

    The Vela Supernova Remnant

    And why did Chinese astronomers observe a supernova in the year 1054 CE at exactly the same location where we observe the Crab Nebula and its associated pulsar today? Where is the binary star system in the Crab Nebula? Where is the binary star system in the Vela Nebula?

  94. Kasundra

    How do we see gamma ray bursts if gamma rays are not anywhere close to the visible spectrum?

  95. R.K.

    At what point on Earth would this have been directly overhead? What increase in neutrino flux can be expected?

  96. R B Heritage

    I don’t have a puny brain. If I did, I would be insulted by the reference in your article that suggests all people have puny brains.

    And theres nothing to be afraid of. You’ve referenced everything exciting in your story with fear.

    Everything is what it is…

    And… I like your column very much. It’s very informative.

    I wish I had happened to have been looking up in the sky at that very moment at that very spot. I want to see a GRB.

    With 7 billion people, im sure dozens or even hundreds did see it and it’s possible that thousands did —if there was other cause to look up at that moment—

    I think there is a good chance and study of the afterglow will show that we did infact see into the direct path of a GRB from
    7.5 billion light years in distance. How else could we see it (with the naked eye) from that far away?

    Had this occurred from… say… 300 light years away… we wouldn’t be blogging right now…

    The star beattlejuice in the constelation orion that is relative to the distance mentioned afore. This star, I’m sure you know, is aging and could go supernova on us in our lifetime, and therefore could… direct a GRB directly at us and destroy us…

    The universe is so limitless that i do believe that somewhere right now monkeys are flying out of peoples butts… or some simulation that would make it appear to us that that is infact what we are seeing.

  97. I heard about someone in Montana who was observing when he received the alert for this GRB… he actually saw it with a pair of binoculars, and later with his 20″ telescope. That’s incredible to me. Not quite unaided, but very close. I’d be thrilled to visually catch any afterglow that distant, even with optical aid.

  98. devin

    I am quoting some phrases from this into my essay for school, and I can’t find out who the author of this page. could someone help me out with this problem?


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