Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gamma-ray burst offers first peek at a young galaxy's star factory

It came from outer space- deep outer space, near the edge of the universe, some 11 million light-years away. It was gone in a flash! Yet, it was one of the largest 'bangs' ever witnessed. In fact, it occurred at the edges of the Big Bang; GRB 080607 blew up when the universe was just 2.2 billion years old.

Gamma-ray bursts- the most violent and luminous explosions occurring in the Universe since the Big Bang- are caused by immense explosions following the collapse of the core of a rapidly rotating, high-mass star into a black hole. Fascinating stuff, indeed.

Astronomers believe most occur when exotic massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As a star's core collapses into a black hole, jets of material — powered by processes not yet fully understood — blast outward at nearly the speed of light. The jets bore all the way through the collapsing star and continue into space, where they interact with gas previously shed by the star and generate bright afterglows that fade with time.

Astrophysists are coming closer to the edge of the universe and the so-called Big Bang itself, just 2.2 billion years away. We all wonder what they will discover at that precipice of time. Perhaps they will find the 'master' of the universe there, shining magnificently, sitting on a gamma-ray throne.

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