CBS News: See an exploding star from 12 billion years ago

Armed with images of the burst, astronomers can now analyze the data in order to understand more about the structure of the universe at its infancy

CBS News covered the astronomy research of physicist Robert Kehoe, SMU professor, and two graduate students in the SMU Department of Physics, Farley Ferrante and Govinda Dhungana.

The astronomy team in May reported observation of intense light from the enormous explosion of a star more than 12 billion years ago — shortly after the Big Bang — that 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 SMU.

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.

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.

CBS News reporter Hani Shawwa reported the news in his article “See an exploding star from 12 billion years ago.”

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Hani Shawwa
CBS News

It took billions of years for the light of this cosmic explosion to reach Earth, and now it’s offering scientists a rare glimpse of the universe at one of its earliest stages.

A McDonald Observatory telescope in Fort Davis, Texas captured the image of a gamma-ray burst — the enormous explosion of a star, which took place more than 12 billion years ago, shortly after the Big Bang.

“Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe since the Big Bang. These bursts release more energy in 10 seconds than our Earth’s sun during its entire expected lifespan of 10 billion years,” said Farley Ferrante, a graduate student at Southern Methodist University’s Department of Physics, who monitored the explosion along with two astronomers in Turkey and Hawaii.

The phenomenon is not well understood by astronomers, but it is believed to be the result of a catastrophic collapse of a star at the end of its life.

“Gamma-ray bursts may be particularly massive cousins to supernovae… By studying them, we learn about supernovae,” said Robert Kehoe, physics professor and leader of the SMU astronomy team.

The photo was snapped in mid-April and released this week.

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.

Read the full story.

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