NASA needs eyewitnesses: Were you at the intersection of Milky Way and Bootës on the evening of March 19?


No kidding. Our Italian physicist friend Dorigo passed along the note on his blog, Quantum Diaries Survivor. George Gliba at NASA (gliba@milkyway.gsfc.nasa.gov) hopes someone was watching Bootës at about 6:10 UT (which would be about 1:10 a.m. Central Daylight Time (CDT), if I’m calculating that correctly).

Gliba said:

Last night the NASA SWIFT spacecraft saw the most extrinsically luminous Gamma-ray Burst ever known. Some ground based telescopes recorded the visual optical afterglow to be 5th magnitude!

Here’s your chance to make science history: If you may have seen the thing, or better, if you have a videotape of the incident (which may have lasted a few minutes), scientists would sure love to see it.

Here’s what the Swift telescope captured:

Gamma Ray burst in Bootes, GRB 080319B
The extremely luminous afterglow of GRB 080319B was imaged by Swift’s X-ray Telescope (left) and Optical/Ultraviolet Telescope (right). This was by far the brightest gamma-ray burst afterglow ever seen. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler, et al.

So, did you see it? Call George Gliba; details, Gliba’s note to physicists and astronomers below the fold.

What is a gamma ray burst?

Most gamma ray bursts occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. Their cores collapse to form black holes or neutron stars, releasing an intense burst of high-energy gamma rays and ejecting particle jets that rip through space at nearly the speed of light like turbocharged cosmic blowtorches. When the jets plow into surrounding interstellar clouds, they heat the gas, often generating bright afterglows. Gamma ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the universe since the big bang.

“This burst was a whopper,” said Swift principal investigator Neil Gehrels of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “It blows away every gamma ray burst we’ve seen so far.”

Calculations show this one was 7 billion light years away. Cool!

According to Quantum Diaries Survivor, “It is a message from George Gliba (gliba@milkyway.gsfc.nasa.gov)”:

Fellow Observers,

Last night the NASA SWIFT spacecraft saw the most extrinsically luminous Gamma-ray Burst ever known. Some ground based telescopes recorded the visual optical afterglow to be 5th magnitude!

Recently I talked to Dr. Chris Shrader who told me about it, as he is on the Swift team. After confirming it with ASD science writer Robert Naeye, he told me that it has a redshift of 0.9, which translates into a distance of 7 billion light years! Robert has notified the AAVSO to see if there were any visual variable star observers who may have seen it. Perhaps some meteor observers saw it or it was seen with a video camera. The time was 6:10 to 6:13 UT March 19, in Bootes. Below is the exact location as reported by the NASA Swift team member Stephen Holland.

The coordinates for the optical afterglow of GRB 080319B are:
RA(J2000.0) = 14:31:40.97
Dec(J2000.0) = +36:18:07.9

Steven adds:
With an estimated uncertainty of ±0.5 arcseconds. I would be very interested in knowing if anyone managed to observe this. Such observations may even have a scientific value in that they would help pin down the exact shape of the light curve.

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One Response to NASA needs eyewitnesses: Were you at the intersection of Milky Way and Bootës on the evening of March 19?

  1. Ediacaran says:

    Uh oh, now the young-Earth creationists will get their panties in a wad, since the science indicates the burst happened about 7 billion years ago, because the burst is calculated to be about 7 billion light-years away.

    Maybe they’ll argue that it was an ancient moth flying into a candle only 6000 light-years away – and that those cosmologists and astronomers are wrong!

    Thanks for the post on this exciting discovery, and the great pics of the aftermath.

    Like

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