“Breaking News! The brightest Gamma-Ray Burst ever recorded occurred at 1:47 am Mountain Time on April 27th. Sources at NASA indicate that it was brighter and longer lasting than any previously recorded.”
That’s a headline you are not likely to see in any of the normal news outlets. It’s only really important in scientific circles. But it is still exciting any time something breaks records in science.
A Gamma Ray is very high energy light. It has so much energy that our eyes can’t even see it. There are several kinds of light across the electro-magnetic spectrum. Everything from gamma rays and ultra-violet, to microwaves and radio. Our eyes can only see a tiny piece right in the middle that we call visible light. But our satellites and telescopes can see much more.
What is a Gamma-Ray Burst you ask? Well…it’s believed to be a sign that a very large star has died and a black hole has been born. When very large (a.k.a. very massive) stars reach the end of their lives, they collapse due to their own gravity. All of that material hits the core and rebounds, creating a huge explosion that we call a Supernova. As part of that collapse, we believe a black hole can be created. Two beams of material come shooting out of the whole mess at very high speed in opposite directions. It’s like trying to scoop up water and compress it…it doesn’t want to compress and squirts out of your hands. Those beams hit other material on their way out and cause that material to heat up to enormous temperatures, emitting the gamma rays that we see. The whole thing lasts for a very short time, so when we see it, we call it a gamma ray burst.
What’s really special about these is that one of the beams has to be pointing right at Earth for us to see them with our telescopes. We don’t get to see most of them because of that. But don’t worry, it won’t cause us any harm. This record setting Gamma-Ray Burst occurred in another galaxy, 3.6 billion light years away. So, while it has scientists very excited, it will have no real impact on our daily lives.
If you want to learn more about Supernovae and other huge explosions in the universe, our Production department is hard at work on a brand new show all about those explosions. Look for it to premier in October of this year!