Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

I can see for miles and miles….

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-03-22

Well, 7.5 BILLION LIGHT YEARS, to be exact.

You could see (from Who to Beatles) across the universe (actually halfway across the universe) if you looked in the right direction the other day, when GRB 080319B was visible to the naked eye (for about 15 seconds) as a flash between visual magnitudes 5 and 6.  Details are here.

GRB 080319B’s afterglow was 2.5 million times more luminous than the most luminous supernova ever recorded, making it the most intrinsically bright object ever observed by humans in the universe. The most distant previous object that could have been seen by the naked eye is the nearby galaxy M33, a relatively short 2.9 million light-years from Earth.

And we thought global warming or meteorites were dangerous! GRBs from a couple of thousand light years away have been blamed for mass extinctions half a billion years ago.  (NASA note here).  A 1000 light year distant burst would be equivalent to a 100,000 megaton nuclear explosion.  A burst 100 light years away would blow away the atmosphere, create tidal waves, and start to melt the surface of the Earth.  GRB 080319B could probably fry half a galaxy!  It certainly shook the Bootes!

GRB 080319B was one of four bursts that Swift detected on March 19th, a Swift record for one day. Swift science team member Judith Racusin of Penn State University comments, “coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma ray bursts.” A fitting farewell, indeed.

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