One of the really cool bits about science (apart from finding out how reality as we know it works) involves watching stuff blow up. Anyone out there who doesn’t occassionally enjoy the spectacle of a nice explosion now and then? Didn’t think so. Well, it seems those whacky NASA guys have recorded a really big one.
NASA’s Fermi telescope has detected a massive explosion in space which scientists say is the biggest gamma-ray burst ever detected, a report published in Science Express says.
The spectacular blast – which was detected in September in the Carina constellation – produced energies ranging from 3,000 to more than 5 billion times that of visible light.
“Visible light has an energy range of between two and three electron volts and these were in the millions to billions of electron volts,” NASA astrophysicist Frank Reddy said.
A team led by Jochen Greiner of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics determined that the gamma-ray burst occurred 12.2 billion light years away.
The sun is eight light minutes from Earth while Pluto is 12 light hours away.
Taking into account the huge distance from earth of the burst, scientists worked out that the blast was stronger than 9,000 supernovae – powerful explosions that occur at the end of a star’s lifetime – and that the gas jets emitting the initial gamma rays moved at nearly the speed of light.
“This burst’s tremendous power and speed make it the most extreme recorded to date,” a statement issued by the US Department of Energy said.
Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions, which astronomers believe occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel and collapse.
Studying gamma-ray bursts allows scientists to “sample an individual star at a distance where we can’t even see galaxies clearly,” Mr Reddy said.