Tag: GRB

Top 24 Deep Space Pictures of 2011

By Phil Plait | December 14, 2011 5:30 am
int_catseyehalo
eso_orion
herschel_ic5146
herschel_xmm_m31
hst_arp273
hst_hr8799
hst_iras13208-6020
hst_m15_600px
hst_m43
hst_m51_nicmos
hst_ngc2841_milquetoasty
hst_snr0509
hst_ugc12158_mwtwin
hst_voorwerp
lkca-15-b
ntt_ngc2100
pandoracluster
spitzer_rcw120
swift_grb110328a
titlepage2
tycho
wise_circinus
wise_coolestbd
wise_lambdaori
wise_zetaoph

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Happy birthday, Swift!

By Phil Plait | November 23, 2011 7:00 am

NASA’s little satellite that could, Swift, recently celebrated its seventh year in space. It blasted into orbit on November 20, 2004, starting a mission that would increase our understanding of the most violent events in the universe, and shatter cosmic distance records.

I wrote about Swift six years ago, on the first anniversary of its launch, and the funny thing is not a whole lot has changed except for the numbers. It’s still going strong after 2500+ days in orbit, and instead of dozens of gamma-ray bursts seen after one year, now it’s seen well over 600. Gamma-ray bursts are the mind-numbingly violent explosions of stars that signal the births of black holes, and each event releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will over its entire lifetime. Happily, the Earth is nowhere near any potential GRB candidates (the nearest is about 7500 light years away, far enough that any damage it could do to us would be relatively mild), but if one were, say, 100 light years away, it would cook us like a whelk in a supernova.

Observing GRBs is Swift’s primary mission, and it’s performed outstandingly. It’s spotted what might be the most distant cosmic explosions ever seen, at 13.14 billion light years away from Earth. It saw the brightest GRB ever detected. But it’s also surveyed the sky, looking at high-energy light from sources near and far. It’s mapped our nearby galactic neighbors the Andromeda (shown above) and Triangulum galaxies in ultraviolet. It’s even observed near-Earth asteroids.

You can see the latest GRBs seen by Swift online, and there’s also a fun little iPhone/iPad app you can download that shows you Swift info, including the latest GRB detected and where Swift is in its orbit over the Earth.

I worked on Education and Public Outreach for Swift for many years, and it’s really nice to see it still pumping out fascinating and important science. Happy birthday to Swift and congratulations to the Swift team!

Image credits: NASA; Image credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP)


Related posts:

Star eaten by a black hole: still blasting away
A Swiftly passing asteroid
Cosmic X-ray blast temporarily blinded NASA satellite!
Anniversary of a cosmic blast

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA
MORE ABOUT: GRB, Swift

The Doctor and the supernova

By Phil Plait | February 18, 2010 2:05 pm

If I had a TARDIS, you know the first thing I would do is go see what a supernova looks like up close. I’ve even tossed around the idea of a little fanfic… but Megan Argo beat me to it. She’s a radio astronomer at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia, and she wrote up a cute and engaging account of The Doctor and Martha witnessing an unusual exploding star (an audio version of the tale is available too)

The cool thing is, the story she wrote is actually part of a real event: the explosion of supernova SN2007gr, the death of a massive star. 2007gr was a Type Ic supernova, which is a star much more massive than the Sun, but has lost the majority of its outer layers over time due to a super-stellar wind. The core is basically all that’s left, and when it runs out of fuel it collapses and then explodes.

TARDIS_SN

2007gr was seen to have gas screaming away from it at almost half the speed of light, far faster than is typical for an exploding star. That means that the gas was focused into twin beams, probably shaped that way by the material swirling around the newly-formed black hole at its heart that formed in milliseconds after the collapse. It wasn’t strong enough to be a monumentally violent gamma-ray burst, but it instead a sort-of hybrid object, one part normal supernova and one part GRB. We’ve known for some time that there is a connection between the two objects, but the actual events are difficult to study because they’re uncommon. Supernova 2007gr is a rare opportunity to study one in detail.

But not as much detail as we could see if we had a time machine. Oh Doctor, there are some many things you could show us. But, I suppose, most of the fun is in figuring it out for ourselves.

Related posts:
New Burst Vaproizes Cosmic Distance Record
GORT bags a burst
Earth was in the crosshairs

Image: SN: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; TARDIS: BBC; composition: Megan Argo

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Geekery, SciFi, TV/Movies
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »