Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2000 July 2
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Gamma-Ray Burst: A Milestone Explosion
Credit: R. Klebesadel, I. Strong & R. Olson (LANL), Vela Project

Explanation: Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) were discovered by accident. Thirty three years ago today, satellites first recorded a GRB. The data plotted here show that the count rate of the satellite gamma-ray instrument abruptly jumped indicating a sudden flash of gamma-rays. The Vela satellites that detected this and other GRBs were developed to test technology to monitor nuclear test ban treaties. With on board sensors they watched for brief x-ray and gamma-ray flashes, the telltale signatures of nuclear explosions. As intended, the Velas found flashes of gamma-rays - but not from nuclear detonations near Earth. Instead, the flashes were determined to come from deep space! Dubbed "cosmic gamma-ray bursts" they are now known to be the most powerful explosions originating in distant galaxies. What could power a gamma-ray burst?

Tomorrow's picture: Hot and Cold Pelican

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.