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The most violent gamma-ray explosion ever observed


March 2, 2009

The afterglow of GRB 080916C.
 Image via NASA

The afterglow of GRB 080916C. Image via NASA

March 3, 2009 The Fermi Gamma-ray Space telescope, which was launched on June 11 last year, has borne witness to the most violent gamma-ray burst ever observed – a monster that exceeded the power of 8000 supernovae. The GRB 080916C burst appeared in the Carina constellation, 12.2 billion light years from Earth, and was analyzed by five French teams, which published their results in the February 19 issue of Science Express.

Gamma-ray bursts are mostly caused by the jet of plasma discharged by stars as they collapse into black holes, and can last from a fraction of a second to several minutes. The GRB 080916C burst emitted matter at over 99.9999% of the speed of light, with radiation containing more than 30 billion times the energy of visible light.

GRB 080916C was first detected by Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, which provides advanced notice of gamma ray incidents by studying the low energy field of space. The Large Area Telescope was able to study the burst at high energies, and the ground-based Gamma-Ray Burst Optical/Near-Infrared Detector documented the afterglow phase.

Analysis of the blast will provide scientists with greater understanding of the mechanisms of particle acceleration.

Kyle Sherer

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