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Light From Huge Explosion 12 Billion Years Ago Reaches Earth

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Known as a gamma-ray burst, the intense light captured in the night sky resulted from one of the biggest and hottest explosions in the universe, occurring shortly after the Big Bang.


Light from the explosion 12 billion years ago of a massive star at the end of its life reached Earth recently. An image of its peak afterglow, circled with blue and yellow, was captured by Southern Methodist University’s ROTSE-IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas. A bright star sits alongside the afterglow from GRB 140419A.

Credit: Southern Methodist University


Intense light from the enormous explosion of a star more than 12 billion years ago — shortly after the Big Bang — recently reached Earth and was visible in the sky.


Known as a gamma-ray burst, light from the rare, high-energy explosion traveled for 12.1 billion years before it was detected and observed by a telescope, ROTSE-IIIb, owned by Southern Methodist University, Dallas.


Gamma-ray bursts are believed to be the catastrophic collapse of a star at the end of its life. SMU physicists report that their telescope was the first on the ground to observe the burst and to capture an image, said Farley Ferrante, a graduate student in SMU’s Department of Physics, who monitored the observations along with two astronomers in Turkey and Hawaii.


Recorded as GRB 140419A by NASA’s Gamma-ray Coordinates Network, the burst was spotted at 11 p.m. April 19 by SMU’s robotic telescope at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.

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Gamma-ray burst 1404191 was spotted at 11 p.m. April 19 by SMU’s robotic ROTSE-IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas.


Gamma-ray bursts are not well understood by astronomers, but they are considered important, Ferrante said.


“As NASA points out, gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe since the Big Bang,” he said. “These bursts release more energy in 10 seconds than our Earth’s sun during its entire expected lifespan of 10 billion years.”


Some of these gamma-ray bursts appear to be related to supernovae, and correspond to the end-of-life of a massive star, said Robert Kehoe, physics professor and leader of the SMU astronomy team.


“Gamma-ray bursts may be particularly massive cousins to supernovae, or may correspond to cases in which the explosion ejecta are more beamed in our direction. By studying them, we learn about supernovae,” Kehoe said.


Scientists weren’t able to detect optical light from gamma-ray bursts until the late 1990s, when telescope technology improved. Among all lights in the electromagnetic spectrum, gamma rays have the shortest wavelengths and are visible only using special detectors.


Gamma-ray bursts result from hot stars that measure as enormous as 50 solar masses. The explosion occurs when the stars run out of fuel and collapse in on themselves, forming black holes.


The ROTSE-IIIb robotic telescope at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas.

Photo: McDonald Observatory


Outer layers detonate, shooting out material along the rotation axis in powerful, high-energy jets that include gamma radiation.


As the gamma radiation declines, the explosion produces an afterglow of visible optical light. The light, in turn, fades very quickly, said Kehoe. Physicists calculate the distance of the explosion based on the shifting wavelength of the light, or redshift.


“The optical light is visible for anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours,” Kehoe said. “Sometimes optical telescopes can capture the spectra. This allows us to calculate the redshift of the light, which tells us how fast the light is moving away from us. This is an indirect indication of the distance from us.”


Observational data from gamma-ray bursts allows scientists to understand structure of the early universe


To put into context the age of the new gamma-ray burst discoveries, Kehoe and Ferrante point out that the Big Bang occurred 13.81 billion years ago. GRB 140419A is at a red shift of 3.96, Ferrante said.


“That means that GRB 140419A exploded about 12.1 billion years ago,” he said, “which is only about one-and-a-half billion years after the universe began. That is really old.”


Light from the explosion more than 11 billion years ago of a massive star at the end of its life reached Earth recently. An image of its afterglow as it begins to fade, circled with yellow, was captured by Southern Methodist University’s ROTSE-IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas. The afterglow from GRB 140423A has faded.

Credit: Southern Methodist University


Armed with images of the burst, astronomers can analyze the observational data to draw further conclusions about the structure of the early universe.


“At the time of this gamma-ray burst’s explosion, the universe looked vastly different than it does now,” Kehoe said. “It was an early stage of galaxy formation. There weren’t heavy elements to make Earth-like planets. So this is a glimpse at the early universe. Observing gamma-ray bursts is important for gaining information about the early universe.”


GRB 140419A’s brightness, measured by its ability to be seen by someone on Earth, was of the 12th magnitude, Kehoe said, indicating it was only 10 times dimmer than what is visible through binoculars, and only 200 times dimmer than the human eye can see, Kehoe said.


“The difference in brightness is about the same as between the brightest star you can see in the sky, and the dimmest you can see with the naked eye on a clear, dark night,” Kehoe said. “Considering this thing was at the edge of the visible universe, that’s an extreme explosion. That was something big. Really big.”


SMU telescope responded to NASA satellite’s detection and notification

SMU’s Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) IIIb is a robotic telescope. It is part of a network of ground telescopes responsive to a NASA satellite that is central to the space agency’s Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission. Images of the gamma-ray bursts are at


When the Swift satellite detects a gamma-ray burst, it instantly relays the location. Telescopes around the world, such as SMU’s ROTSE-IIIb, swing into action to observe the burst’s afterglow and capture images, said Govinda Dhungana, an SMU graduate student who participated in the gamma-ray burst research.


SMU’s ROTSE-IIIb observes optical emission from several gamma-ray bursts each year. It observed GRB 140419A just 55 seconds after the burst was detected by Swift.


Just days later, ROTSE-IIIb observed and reported a second rare and distant gamma-ray burst, GRB 140423A, at 3:30 a.m. April 23. The redshift of that burst corresponds to a look back in time of 11.8 billion years. ROTSE-IIIb observed it 51 seconds after the burst was detected by Swift.


“We have the brightest detection and the earliest response on both of those because our telescope is fully robotic and no human hands were involved,” Ferrante said.


Ferrante, the first to check observations on GRB 140423A, is first-author on that gamma-ray burst. Tolga Guver, associate professor in the Department of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Istanbul University, Turkey, is second author. On GRB 140419A, Guver is first author and Ferrante is second.


The research is funded by the Texas Space Grant Consortium, an affiliate of NASA. — Margaret Allen




Contacts and sources:

Margaret Allen

Southern Methodist University


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    Total 5 comments
    • GBCIR

      It’s HERE! Or was it the April 23rd zap? Perhaps it’s a combo?

      About TIME too! (think WAVE GUIDE Harmonics)

      What will Benjamin Fulford say?

      • Luwdmke

        It was just a fart that caught fire 12 billion years ago.

    • Patriot Games

      John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness” started with this exact same kind of event… :evil:

    • HereAmI

      Everything that could be wrong with science, is wrong with science.
      Because of the insistence in the astrophysical community that red shift is caused by acceleration in stars and galaxies, and that stars are generally speaking moving away from us at warp speed, despite there being no mechanism to explain this or power source to enable it to occur, ( so the imaginary Dark Energy was hypothesized ), we are also left with the erroneous belief that there was a Big Bang some billions of years ago, which is not in fact the truth.
      This doctrine, surprisingly, actually arose with rabbi Isaac Luria in the mid 16th century. In fact a great deal of modern “scientific” understanding is directly traceable to the Synagogue of Satan, including parallel universes, string theory, etc.
      We are in fact in a Steady State, as Hoyle originally suggested, and no significant movent is apparent in the universe. Red Shift is in fact caused by light from distant objects passing through intense magnetic fields en route to our eyes.
      The Electric Universe w/s has the details.
      But the BB is a convenient lie, because it ties into the main lie, which is that sufficient time has elapsed since this hypothesized bang for something called evolution to have occurred, despite the fact that it did not occur.
      And why did it not occur? Well, because God created us, that’s why. He created us in perfection; WE ARE NOT EVOLVING, as anyone with a small amount of intelligence will realise. Our “developmental gene regulatory networks” will not allow changes from our basic body configurations. If mutations occur in the dGRN, they are invariably fatal to the organism. If anything, we are degenerating. Ten minutes spent watching any TV channel will make this more than obvious to you.
      The theory of evolution is entirely predicated on the idea that random mutations in the DNA occasionally produce phenotypic changes which are evolutionarily helpful, and that over time, one species can change into another, eg a fish into a lizard, and a lizard, into a bird.
      This axiomatic belief has NEVER, NOT EVEN ONCE, EVER been demonstrated. Minor changes, horizontal ones, can occur, as with Darwin’s Finches, the breeding of dog types, etc, but these changes are heavily limited. A dog will never become a cat no matter how much milk you feed it. Indeed, the latest science indicates that many of the forces which control ontogeny, ie initial foetal development, are not controlled by the DNA at all, thereby at a stroke, demolishing the Darwinian paradigm. They are controlled by such things as the electrical charge distribution both across the cell membrane and in a three-dimensional envelope around it; this latter creating the initial axis which becomes the framework for all subsequent development; and the prepositioning of specific proteins and fats within that membrane in unique configurations; and by the Sugar Code, ie the almost infinite ways in which glucose or other sugar molecules are added to proteins after they have been made. These proteins themselves are exposed to infinitely complex post-translational modifications too, thus the DNA is really only the very beginning of cellular complexity, it certainly is not the “blueprint of life”, as Darwinians would have it, despite its obvious importance to the organism.
      Certain cellular organelles are directed precisely to their final addresses by a kind of zip code. This system comprises both a specific labelled organelle, and a destination code for it. These codes are not specified by the DNA, but by the modalities already mentioned above, eg by varying charge concentrations and polarities across the cell membrane, etc.
      Thus there very much appears to be an external force driving cellular differentiation and the positioning of specific subcellular structures within that matrix, ie an external Intelligence. This has some echoes with the theory of Morphic Resonance, of course. The recent revelation of some of the mechanisms adopted during ontogeny is entirely harmonious with the scripture “All things are upheld by the Word of His power”.
      That any sane person could honestly believe that the astonishing and Byzantine complexities, now being revealed in even that most humble of structures, the cell, could be the result of blind chance processes says a great deal about the utter spiritual darkness in which such persons dwell.
      “And unto man He said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding”.

      • DK

        So I have God to blame for my defects were dilberate and all part of the plan :?:

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