Space Telescopes Observe Mysterious Giganormous Explosion In the Constellation Draco

Illustration for article titled Space Telescopes Observe Mysterious Giganormous Explosion In the Constellation Draco

Astronomers have discovered a huge explosion that NASA qualifies as "unprecedented". They call it GRB 110328A, for Gamma Ray Burst. I'd call it Giganormous Deadly Ray Clusterfrak in Space.


They say "they have never seen anything this bright, long-lasting and variable before." They are very surprised that, more than a week after it was located by Swift's Burst Alert Telescope, the explosion is still going on with fiery violence. So, what is it? Did Galactus eat the Skrull homeworld? Did the portal to the Negative Zone open to destroy the Universe once a for all? They don't know it for sure yet, but they have a theory:

Although research is ongoing, astronomers say that the unusual blast likely arose when a star wandered too close to its galaxy's central black hole. Intense tidal forces tore the star apart, and the infalling gas continues to stream toward the hole. According to this model, the spinning black hole formed an outflowing jet along its rotational axis. A powerful blast of X- and gamma rays is seen if this jet is pointed in our direction.

After Swift alerted of the burst on March 28, Chandra was turned around to the source along with Hubble and dozens of Earth-based telescopes. On April 4, Hubble imaged the galaxy in which the explosion is, in the Constellation Draco. Chandra took a 4-hour exposure photo of the area, and pinpointed the exact location: The center of the galaxy.

According to Andrew Fruchter—at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore—"we know of objects in our own galaxy that can produce repeated bursts, but they are thousands to millions of times less powerful than the bursts we are seeing now. This is truly extraordinary." The fireworks keep going on, with the explosion brightening more than five times since April 3.

The astronomers believe that the X-rays we are seeing "may be coming from matter moving near the speed of light in a particle jet that forms as the star's gas falls toward the black hole." Apparently, we are watching this astronomical event head on.

But don't worry: Since the explosion is located 3.8 billion light years from Earth, those deadly rays and the other radioactive nasty stuff is not getting anywhere near us. Thankfully, we have enough radioactive crap going wild in our own planet. [NASA]




Ok, to all of you who so correctly point out that it happened 3.8 billion light years away, and thus 3.8 billion years ago, and therefore conclude that we are safe:

Imagine, if you will, that some cosmic force hurled a very large truck - full of plutonium... yeah, plutonium - in your direction. And they threw it at you from a distance of 3.8 billion light years. If nothing hits the truck in the meantime, and you see it "head on", my advice to you:


(All you nit pickers can join in now - I know that it's a bad analogy, because there's that whole "nothing hits the truck in the meantime" thing - most of the photons coming in our direction have hit something on the way, so the intensity is much less. I do remember reading once that it's a very good thing that this didn't happen even relatively close by, like in our own galaxy. Because we would be crispy.)