The Swift space telescope (links here and here) (along with a collection of ground-based telescopes) has set a new record for the furthest seen Gamma Ray Burst event. There’s a BBC news story on it here*
These objects are among the most truly spectacular (and puzzling) events in astronomy.
Here are some quotes:
Gamma-ray bursts are intense flares of high-energy radiation that appear without warning from across the cosmos.
They can release as much energy in a few minutes as our Sun will emit in its expected 10-billion-year lifetime.
Here is a nice site about Gamma Ray Bursts, with some history and a bit more of the science.
GRBs are generated by violent events, expected to be processes such as stars collasping, perhaps forming a black hole. Another violent scenario involves to compact objects (neutron stars) merging into each other in tiny fractions of a second. Here is a site with some movies of simluations of such an event.
Here (from the BBC article) are the numbers for the new event:
The latest, record gamma-ray burst was detected on 4 September, 2005, and lasted about three minutes. It probably marked the death of a massive star as it collapsed into a black hole.
It has a so-called redshift of 6.29, which translates to a distance of about 13 billion light-years from Earth.
…and for real excitement, you can read the scientists’ chatter and some of the raw reporting of the data at the NASA site.